Saturday, 7 May 2011

Side Show Nick

Nick Clegg seemed to be taking things a bit personally, even before the 'public execution' on Thursday. At least now he knows it's not all in the mind, I expect that'll save a bit on therapist bills. Still, he got a good seat at the Royal Wedding and his pledge to end the jobs for life culture of MPs seems to have worked in his case.

Now all the fuss has died down, and the crowd has drifted away, can it be my turn to wade in and kick the man when he's down? You're really not that good Nick. You had a decent half hour on a public debate and I think it went to a lot of people's heads but unfortunately, and this is the real problem, hot air is simply hot air and politicians are still judged, by supporters at least, by their actions rather than by their promises. Nick Clegg, you very quickly became Richard Rich to David Cameron's Thomas Cromwell, which, in this 'Man For All Seasons' analogy I've embarked on, makes me either the common man or Sir Thomas More depending on how much red wine I've consumed.

Having said all that, I'm pretty cross with the political commentators who explained away the Lib Dem defeat by glibly characterising their supporters as protest voters. There still seems to be a paucity of thought around voter motivation and political expectation. Many Liberal supporters, far from protesting about anything, used to vote orange because they believed in lots of things unprovided for elsewhere. Call it naive, and you will, but I thought the Liberal Democrats stood for something, lots of things, one of them being integrity. It turns out they were doing exactly what tired old commentators accused them of doing - promising the earth because they could, agreeing with anything, because it didn't matter.

The Liberal Democrats won't be back in my lifetime because their Unique Selling Point has vanished. Many of us, MANY of us, saw the short termism of Labour (Tory) policies and the impending disaster of living off credit. We weren't all having a party, most of us were just doing what we had to do to keep up. We didn't want to be, or want, Billionaires. The Liberals offered a way back to community policies rooted in the health and good of the nation, building a society based on plenty and moving forward with compassion and purpose. Then, in one single issue, the tuition fees, they showed that it had all been a mirage. They were exactly like the others. Saying what we wanted to hear because no-one else was saying it.

Those voters in the north have gone wearily back to Labour because perhaps they're better now? Faint chance. Those voters in the south have less options and for them, the Lib Dem's are still the only way of fighting the Tories. Those in Wales have rejected the unfashionably loony left policies of the nationalists and returned to the Labour comfort zone of a party which rebelled against its central leadership during the vacuous Blair years. Only in Scotland did anyone have a real option and lucky them, they've got a chance of not just better Government but complete disassociation.

The British either now support the cuts, overwhelmingly because they're not suffering with the roll back of public services, at least not yet, or they're against them because they are. Very few ordinary voters bother with the intellectual struggle of it when faced with personal failure or success. Vince Cable may rant against the tribal Conservatives but he's sharing a house with them, raking out the grate of the Tory fireplace so they can get another policy in the oven. Nick Clegg may not like the way we treat him but, well, tough. See you in the dole queue Cleggy?

Monday, 18 April 2011

The End of the Affair

So my membership renewal has dropped through the letter box and the days of actively supporting a political party are drawing to a close. Or are they?

Well, probably, yes. Nothing that has happened since I started this blog has convinced me that I'm wrong and the Coalition is right. We're stilled poised on the edge of economic disaster with an opposition unable to admit culpability and a Government unable to come up with anything but more of the same. The wafer thin list of positives bandied about by senior Lib Dems are a poor price to pay for the inevitable catastrophic loss of support that will become evident after the local elections. Of course, we could have predicted this. We have the lessons of history. Dr Who has returned in triumph, the Daleks have made every series but the the Ogrons have yet to be noticed, unwanted in a new age where Daleks can levitate and mix their own cocktails. The Lib Dems, and the Ogrons, are going to be missing for a long time.

For those of us on the left of the party, a membership reminder comes signed by Simon Hughes, Nick Clegg doesn't get a mention. The injustice of Nick Clegg's fall from grace is etched upon the brow of all serving Liberals but unless they acknowledge the depth of betrayal felt by long serving members the party faces a bleak future. We know we're supposed to like Mr Hughes with his impeccable back catalogue of left leaning speeches but now he's part of the gang that we don't want to join.

On public services, Liberals are pretending to discuss while services are dismantled and left unworkable. There is already no turning back, it is pointless pretending to be a brake. On the economy, the Liberals have done nothing except fail to stop Vince Cable's leaks. The about turn on tuition fees lost them a generation of supporters, the defence of pensioners and the lowest waged simply a sop to a system that ensures a widening of the standard of living gap.

I'm limply delivering a few AV referendum votes locally, as a favour to the local party as confused by the sudden turn of events as I am. Should anyone stop me on the doorstep, I'll hope to be persuaded by their argument because I hold no view. Voting reform has gone to the polls at a time when its supporters can't bring themselves to support Nick Clegg. There's another campaign lost before it starts.

We believe in a fairer Britan. Simon Hughes underlines that in his letter. Perhaps the Ogrons did too? I can see them presenting their ideas to the Dalek leader, written on a bit of cardboard in barely legible scrawl. Cue flash, an Ogron in negative and the end of the alliance. David Cameron can barely keep his attack dogs in their kennels as it is, as soon as he feels emboldened he must surely try to end the Coalition. Those Lib Dems smart enough and professional enough would do well to switch to the blue rosette. The rest of them, if they have any conscience at all, will join me in trying to figure out where we go now.

After years of paying the man, I'm back in the apolitical world. I imagine it's a bit like being released from prison. Carrying my campaign rosettes and badges in a box, I'm striding out into a brave new future. And heading straight for a pub.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Budget Time.

Almost a year in to this car crash of a ruling Coalition we're facing another budget, this one a growth budget from Boy George and his posh mates. It'll be aimed at getting the small to medium businesses employing the thousands of public sector workers thrown on to the altar of free enterprise. Enough talk of cuts, now we focus on getting back in the race and back on top.

From where I sit, its a pretty funny race we're hoping to compete in. The world is changing and the old sureties about Europe and the West are changing with it, bad news for the West, but also for the world. The new leaders are the economies putting people second, those miracle workers in China and India that let industry flourish where human rights fear to tread. Those panting along in the chasing pack are trying to change pace by casting off regulation, talking up flexible working patterns but not, as yet, sacrificing human spirit and progress in an attempt to win.

Boy George will want to talk a bit about regulation. The more rapid backbenchers have been baying for the re-balancing agenda to take off, allowing the state to retire behind the crusading lines of resurgent private enterprise. What will the Liberals do then? Are they really so desperate to win the AV referendum that all thoughts of opposing yet another lurch to the right are ignored in favour of winning the one thing that might justify their co-operation? It would seem so.

The Coalition continues to benefit the senior party at the expense of the Lib Dems. The powers behind David Cameron's throne continue to urge the destruction of public services and the reward of private endeavour, albeit the private endeavour of large global corporations intent on private accumulation of wealth. George Osborne will tell us he's supporting growth but his real support goes to those who admire the lack of restraint shown by the aggressive developing countries. This recession will go on for some time but when the economy recovers, a lot more people are going to realise that it really no longer matters, that markets, not countries hold sway. In five years time, Liberals will have a lot more to worry about than AV.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Empty Room

The conference went pretty well for the rebels. The NHS radical overhaul was discussed, rejected and sent back to the Coalition, too late to save our NHS (about 10 years too late possibly) but not too late to start a fight. The party agonised over its new direction in the face of unpopularity and Nick Clegg was made to look stupid and ministerial in equal measure. He spoke about his new country 'alarm clock Britain' and rejected Thatcherism and Blairism, linking the Liberals instead with Mill, Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, all people who must be sleeping uneasily with the present company their legacy keeps. At least the greatest, Gladstone, was left out of it, Clegg obviously has some respect.

The Lib Dems had a great conference actually, good for Britain if you believe they are part of Government. Their problem was, Japan had an earthquake. Real life and death struggles took over and Nick and his friends and foes alike were talking in an empty room.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Conference Ahoy!

The Liberal Democrats' spring conference is upon us. I used to enjoy a party conference - ridiculous dreamers espousing ridiculous ideas made all the more ridiculous because they were good honest ideas that had no place in Government. Remember the 1p in the pound rise in income tax? Ditching the Lottery? Oh how we made them laugh.

Well the spring conference has ditched all the fun. Out go the beards and jeans, in come the I-Suits, rolling up their tailor made sleeves to fight the good fight against backsliders, waverers and, above all, rebels. The party that used to celebrate diversity and open discussion is in town to lecture and brow beat those still loyal to Liberal values and it's going to do it with a heady blend of truth and hyperbole. I'm guessing the slogan will be 'Despite the mess Labour left us in......'

Liberal Democrat News was full of 'Despite the mess Labour left us in...' stuff. Let me tell you now, because it will save all of us time, for every £300 coming in the nation spends £400. I'm not sure why, in a leaflet which talks about £150billion extra borrowing year on year, they've reduced it to hundreds - why not 3p and 4p? - but the message is clear, it was this way when we took over. Labour got rid of the boom and left us bust. Well true. But let's be old Liberal about this. Who created the boom? What created the boom? Who benefited from the boom? Is boom good?

The Labour party should never be forgiven until it apologises properly for it's pursuit of Tory policies to their logical conclusion. Says who? Well, apart from me, Tim Farron, that's who, the party President. In the best bit of LDN, Tim Farron rallies the troops with a very Liberal piece (once we get the \mess Labour left us with bit out of the way) about the cause of our woes. Tony Blair, he writes, came to power, not with a new plan for Government, but with a recycled version of Thatcherism. He goes on 'While the Tories may believe that the state is over bloated and must be cut back, we don't agree with them, we simply acknowledge that we can't afford current levels of expenditure'. Great stuff, honest, confrontational, a real taste of the unease felt by all but those at the top over the Coalition state of affairs. One can only assume he's trying to keep us sweet (see, now I'm a cynical member of a bulk standard political party).

Why can't we afford current national expenditure? Where is the economic debate, where is the social debate? I think Tim and his mates are going to get a bit of it this weekend and he should listen before he becomes President of nothing and no-one in particular. The Coalition has members voted for by the non right leaning voters of the UK. It also has right wing thinkers in positions of real power prepared to remove the remaining barriers to free market lunacy. The conference is where Tim Farron, Nick Clegg, Uncle Vince and Danny Boy will finally meet the people they're supposed to represent and, despite all the gagging techniques put on them, the rabble will have their say.

One of the points being discussed will be NHS reforms. Taking another piece in the LDN by smoothie Paul Burstow, Minister of State for Care Services, the NHS reforms are all good and he has no intention of addressing the points made by health professionals and instead cherry picks the statistics he likes to prove he's right. His attitude encapsulates my opposition to the Lib Dems involvement in the Coalition. His points are Tory points, Tory propaganda, Tory idealism. The views from the ordinary party members, many of them public servants, are ignored under the convenience of Coalition  unity and 'the mess Labour left us'. The line that should frighten all of us, it scares me, is 'We believe decisions about your healthcare should be made by doctors'. The layers of deception in this simple statement are staggering. Being old Liberal again - They are now. The reforms change nothing. The System works well, the evidence is loaded (in fact much of the evidence is only there because the NHS is one of the few health systems to attempt 100% coverage, they're not allowed to exclude problems or ignore stakeholders). None of the reforms were in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto and none of the lies hastening the commercialisation of a battered NHS should be defended by Liberal Democrat MPs.
The attack on public services by the the Coalition will continue but this conference might give us an idea of whether the Coalition will. As Sheffield gears up for the show, lets hope the fight turns nasty. I'm not expecting much but in a week when Tottenham do better than Arsenal perhaps I can allow myself to believe in miracles.

Monday, 28 February 2011

On a serious note

Another sad event. Those Dr Who fans, like me, careering towards their 50th birthday, will have noticed with regret the passing of Nicholas Courtney As The Brigadier he hung around longer than any Dr and pulled off the trick of being the loveable face of the Establishment without losing believability.

Those of you not in the slightest touched by this, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Post Industrial Society

Having being away from my desk for a few weeks coping with real life, it's good to be able to come back and talk about a death. Daniel Bell has finally given up on the post industrial society he predicted and gone to reside elsewhere. Those not familiar with his work will have heard the phrases and perhaps read the work of his disciple, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. Or perhaps not.

Bell was a bit of a worrier and probably not great at parties but he got quite a lot of predictions about the future spot on. His background made people take him seriously and the creator of futurology, or whatever its called, can probably sleep in peace knowing he wont be ridiculed as the man who said cassette tape would take over the world. In that respect he's luckier that George Orwell who, because he wrote fiction, is ignored as a prophet of the future despite his uncanny portrayal or 21st century Orange County in 1984.

What Orwell and Bell have in common, apart from the inability to breathe, is that they both predicted a world similar to the one we're sailing into. They gave their visions a relentlessly pessimistic spin. What neither had to do in their books was give space to the lobbyists and free marketeers who currently rule the known world. These economists, free trade fanatics, frowners and lickspittles are employed by and for the financial institutions and big industry leaders they are paid to comment on. Not a day goes by without be-suited men appearing in front of an office backdrop similar to the office backdrop the man they're talking about appeared in a few moments before. The BBC love these talking heads, they give them air time to fill air time. Today, liver experts, presumably with no axe to grind other than improving the nations health, published an article urging the Government to impose a minimum alcohol price per unit. The BBC managed to find the reasoned tones of someone from the Drink More Wine and Beer Association (I think that was the name) and gave him five minutes to ridicule these experts. The BBC, who didn't have a liver expert on, probably regarded this as reasonable, allowing the beleaguered side of the argument a free and fair response. I'm reminded of that fabulous line by Joe Strummer - "If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine anyway".

What has this rant against free market ethics got to do with the Liberal Democrats I'd hear you ask if I weren't on a Computer and inhabiting an empty ether. Well we have a few good men in Orange out there who belatedly seem to be questioning the progress of free and fair debate in the Coalition. Nick Clegg may get a bit upset when Lord Oakeshott loses his temper with the Tories over insipid bank negotiations, he may tut at Liberal councillors pointing out the reality of massive cuts and privatisation and he may groan when he hears of attempts to hijack the spring conference by discussing policy but perhaps he should be studying his new friends instead and trying to work out his role in the joint decision making process. We have lived through twelve years of increasingly disappointing Labour rule and now look to be heading for a decade of state dismantling without so much as a whisper of dissent from the Liberal elite.

Why are the big ideas of the centre and left ignored by the Coalition? Obviously because they are abhorrent to the ruling grandees and rottweilers of the Tory party. Why is Nick Clegg unable to get past the blizzard of free market lobbying? Not so obvious, but I'm beginning to think its because, Europe aside, he agrees with it. No-one in this slick ruling elite is prepared to notice that they are failing their constituents. The labour party is unable to escape its past. The media is owned by, and full of, the global rich and the impartial state institutions such as the BBC are falling over themselves to canvass the opinion of the Coalition sponsored lobbyists.

If Daniel Bell took any satisfaction from his predictions coming true he hid it well. Mind you, no-one really came a calling, just as no-one really views Orwell as a visionary. If Adolf Hitler flew in today.......

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Male on Sunday.

If there is one person I like to actively ignore it's Peter Hitchens, the well known big head who always comes at a subject due east of unreasonable. Last Sunday he caught me by surprise by appearing shortly after Andy Murray had collapsed in the Melbourne heat, heading up the comment and analysis on The Politics Show.

I thought he said two things of note, much as it pains me to say it, one loud and clear, the other ignored despite obviously being close to the Hitchens heart, or at least as close as anything can get. Firstly, he made the point that the cuts imposed on Britain by the Coalition, the Tories and the Lib Dems, Daleks and Ogrons, are mainly for show. They can't in themselves make much difference but they convince the bond markets that Britain is serious about its debts. The second point, at the end of a long sentence, made in a hurry but with determination, was that the Government may have underestimated quite how much the economy relies on investment and jobs in the public sector.

Taking the first point. The bond markets are in the ascendancy in the global economy. In a world reliant on credit and the exchange of money in a bewildering flood of schemes and enterprises, Hitchens concludes that the central plank of the Government economic policy is a confidence building measure. He's probably right. So why has Vince Cable done so little to change the way Britain works, one of his key election themes? If we are all enduring a long term pain for a short term gain, why are the Liberals not working toward reforming our economy so that in future we are not held to ransom by short selling? Mr Cable used to be convinced that the financial sector was too large for a healthy economy, is he still so sure and if he isn't, would it not be possible to tell us why? The deeper the world gets into the pockets of global capitalism, the clearer the need to regulate and defend the societies it meddles with. The amounts of money that can be removed from any functioning sovereign economy are now so enormous, none of us should feel safe until our elected leaders (hmmmmn) come up with an escape plan.

On to Hitchens' second point. Why is this not a battle cry from the opposition benches? All of us rely on a healthy public sector to keep the lights on. In many parts of the country the public sector offers the only employment capable of basing a secure mortgage paying economy on. Of course it is expensive, but that money so reluctantly invested in people rarely leaves our shores, most of it is plugged straight back into a local economy, supporting the private sector with steady reliable custom. The rewards of the public sector are more evident now than the drawbacks were when we were all drunk on credit. The work force valued security above wealth, now they face being left with neither because, abandoned by their traditional champions, they're left to the venom of the free market supporters, frothing at the mouth with indignation at the supposed waste of tax payers money.

We have become a sham meritocracy. We talk about social mobility without noticing it's always been all one way, William the Conqueror brought over the current cabinet. Those lucky enough to join the elite make sure the meritocratic ideas don't get in the way of their children's education. When the going gets tough, rather than large scale reform or meaningful dialogue, the elite poke the serfs with sticks and demonise them. The Coalition is carrying out a right wing manifesto under cover of keeping the bond markets happy and dissolving our public services while blaming the deficit on the cost of paying staff to work in them. It's bad enough as it is without having to agree with Peter Hitchens as well.

Monday, 24 January 2011


The outgoing chief of the CBI, Sir Richard Lambert, has had a pop at the Coalition. I doubt the Daleks or the Ogrons looked up from their world domination plans. One person who did comment on it was Ed Balls, the new hope of the Official Opposition. I'm not sure I can raise a proper sentence.

Sir Richard Lambert appears to be upbraiding the Government of some other country, the one where society actually is considered before big business. "Politics appears to have trumped economics" apparently, according to the eminent Sir Richard, presumably knighted for making Britain a better place to live. Reading between the few lines I can keep my eyes open for, it would seem the pace of de-regulation is a major thrust of his complaint. According to Nick Robinson at the Beeb, he 'fears that the government's cap on immigration could stop firms hiring the workers they need. He's worried by ministers plans to scrap the age at which people are forced to retire, ministers' unwillingness to expand London's airports, proposed anti bribery laws and much besides' adding the Lambert quote "It's hard to see anything much has happened" 'on government promises to cut Whitehall regulation'.

Enter Ed Balls. He feels, apparently , that Sir Richard Lambert agrees with the labour line. Well, no, Ed, he doesn't and why oh why are you claiming he does? There are economists galore willing to oppose Coalition policy, why does the Labour party feels the need to rope the CBI into its cohort of supporters? Ah yes, because Balls got us here, helped pave the way for the rampaging Tory invasion of our way of life, the deluded champion of market forces as market forces swept away our place in the world and helped settle the CBI, big BIG business and free market fruitcakes into the corridors of power. Ed Balls probably thought Sir Lambert Richman owed him.

There comes a moment in all the great Dr Who episodes when a trusted aide turns out to have been in the pay of the opposition all along. Hopefully Ed Balls is going to feel the betrayal. If he does, perhaps he'll come clean about his own past and lead the fightback without the baggage of denial. Until he does, let me catch up on sleep, its going to be a rough old year.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Alternative Vote

Somehow, in the shadow of the increasingly dark clouds of western economic gloom, the LibDems are sticking to the plan of campaigning for the Alternatve Voting system. This, for those who neither know nor care, is the compromise to proportional representation that the Daleks have allowed the Ogrons to champion at a national referendum. Like so much about the coalition, it's almost unbelievable that such a half-cocked vision is allowed the time of day.

The rest of us are watching the death of social politics, of any sort of pretence that society is more important than money. While the Ogrons are printing their leaflets, the reservoir of right wing Dalek resentment is building up behind the coalition dam.

Here is a quote from Tim Montgomerie, the editor in chief of Tory website ConservativeHome - "If Cameron keeps appeasing Clegg, he risks killing off the Tory party". Or this from Mark Pritchard of the 1922 committee about the rumour that certain individuals want to permanently cement relations between the two parties - "There are fundamentalists among them who are this very moment straining their political sinews in a misguided attempt to try to supplant the very heart and soul of the Conservative party itself – a clumsy attempt to try to deconstruct the most successful political party in British history,"

Tories are apparently incensed, the grass roots are ready to march. It needs to be considered because the coalition, which has all but killed off my party, is now being blamed for poisoning the Tories. To which I have to retort that if what we are now staring at is a compromise wildly out of kilter with Tory aspirations then the coalition is an evil which none of us should endure. It is hiding an ideological battle for the soul of the country which is going to come out sooner of later.

The Alternative Vote will be soundly rejected should any referendum ever be put before the British public. None of us want it, it is too little or too much. What I want, and what we need, is an alternative vision, a break from the spiralling cost of fulfilling market greed. The Labour party is hampered by its complicity in creating the atmosphere where de-regulation thrived. The real Tory party is waiting for the chance to realise its free market dream and the coalition is just cover behind which the troops can form up. I'm not sure there is anyone left to fight for my vision but as I listen to the daily news bulletins I honestly can't believe that everyone out there is unaware of the chaotic lack of leadership and the paucity of thinking that has brought us to this sorry state.

When Daleks rule the world, what is the point of Humans?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year

My daughter has been thrilled with Wii Just Dance this Christmas. 20 seconds into a neck and neck competition wrecking the front room to 'Cotton Eye Joe' or some such ditty I was forced to cede the dance floor to the four year old while I removed my fleece, high energy barn dance being beyond my limit these days. To my surprise I continued scoring points, the act of removing my garment only slightly less successful than my previous attempts at dancing.

Most people would laugh or perhaps complain about the accuracy of the game but a metaphor leapt out at me as soon as it happened. My daughter and I had exposed the Monetary Policy Committee. There was she, Mervyn King lets say, wildly waving her control, piling on the points with a deft shimmy and knee bend and there was I, more Andrew Sentance, grabbing the odd headline with an off kilter spin and there was Just Dance, for these purposes the British economy, carrying on with the barest nod of recognition. While we're 'dancing', we look like we're in some sort of control but as soon as we stop the truth is self evident - whatever we do is largely irrelevant.

Interest rates are now 0.5% and yet the effect of such a rate on the economy is imperceptible. Inflation is up because the things we buy are affected by global supply and demand not by interest rates. Unemployment is up because we no longer have enough meaningful jobs to offer our citizens, whatever the Bank of England does. Goods now queue to come into our country and money floods to leave it and mucking about with the rates is small change in such a disastrous balance.

For those of you not familiar with Galbraith, the main thrust of 'The Affluent Society' is that the time to manage an economy is when it is doing well. The wise men at the Bank of England and the wise men of New Labour presided over such a period and let the economy off the leash. With notable exceptions they preferred to take the plaudits for overseeing a credit led housing boom every bit as damaging as the de-regulated asset stripping of the eighties. There is another great metaphor for this in 'Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs' (another of my daughter's favourites) as the obese calorie addicted Mayor floats off to sea on an edible raft. The final frames have the Mayor sinking as he eats the last of the vessel, too fat to help himself avoid the inevitable. In the film it's funny, in fact the film is genius but then it's a cartoon entertainment, not real life.

Well Happy New Year everyone. My prediction is that this is the year the recession bites because this is the year that those being told to tighten their belts turm out to be the same people who sold their belts long ago and bought a shiny all in one silk catsuit on credit. They don't rent council houses or live with their parents, they own houses and pay mortgages and car loans and credit card bills, many of them because they were told to do so and many more because property was the only show in town.

I don't mean to sound miserable, although I'm more upbeat than say The Mail, but it's important to set out the back drop to my opposition to the Coalition because carols and a festive hangover or two have hardened my resolve. If you can't even out jive a four year old dancing to 'Kids In America', you have to have something or someone to blame - why not  make it Nick Clegg?