Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’

I was on BBC Radio 5 live on Friday and again this morning on Kevin Maguire’s LBC show. My theme was the monumental failure of Nick Clegg’s leadership of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition. But far more important than what I think, is the damning verdict of the electorate last Thursday, when our share of the vote plummeted For those of you reading this who are not natural Lib Dem supporters you might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs!

Squandered Opportunity for Electoral Change

I have a big stake in this. I have been a member since the Party was formed back in the 1980’s and I was in the Liberal Party before that. I have been a District and County Councillor and stood for Parliament twice, most recently last year in Surrey against Jeremy Hunt. I served as a Branch Chairman and on the Executive of my local Party. Like many committed Lib Dem members I believe Nick Clegg has failed us badly.

For committed Lib Dem supporters it is shocking that Clegg has squandered the golden opportunity to achieve electoral reform, perhaps for a generation. No other Lib Dem leader has had such an opportunity, but Clegg has comprehensively failed to deliver on this political reform which falls directly under his Ministerial remit. First he failed in the negotiation with Cameron last year, which left us with the rather uninspiring AV system as the proposed change. He then failed on his choice of timing, by fixing the referendum date at a point when (because of the ‘savage cuts’ agenda) the coalition was likely to be deeply unpopular with left-inclined voters whose support would be needed to secure reform. Due to Clegg cosying up to Cameron he undermined his credibility with those same voters and thus their support for a voting system that would benefit the Lib Dems. He left the Yes campaign too little time to mobilise and plan for the vote. He then failed to rein in the Tories and prevent the scandalous tactics of the No2AV campaign. The last of these points is symptomatic of his wider failure as Lib Dem leader in this coalition.

What are the Lib Dems for?

Nick Clegg’s cosy relationship with Cameron and his personal unwillingness to assert himself in the face of the ‘ruthless and calculating’ Tories (as Vince Cable describes them) is a huge factor in the loss of support for the Lib Dems. I have just watched the Lib Dem leader of Eastleigh Borough Council on TV describing Clegg as naive. That’s one perspective. Personally I wonder if Clegg isn’t actually a natural ally of Cameron, not simply because of their similar class backgrounds but because they share much in the way of political ideology. Whether Clegg likes it or not, for decades most of our support has come from left of centre voters. It is these voters who are saying to us that they feel betrayed by our broken promises and by our rightward shift (which I call the Toryfication of our Party). Clegg is seen as weak by many people who suspect that he is a Tory at heart anyway. Whether or not that is true, he has failed to provide a passionate left of centre leadership. His heart just does not seem to be in it.

People naturally ask “What are the Lib Dems for?” and “What’s the point in voting Lib Dem?” When we make an explicit promise to vote against any proposed increase in University tuition fees (and actually sign a pledge saying exactly that) it is no surprise if people turn against us when we do exactly the opposite. Simples! Why should the voters believe any promise Clegg makes to them? The tuition fees vote was a political disaster for us. By this foolish act alone, Clegg has fatally undermined his credibility with millions of people, especially the young who had thought we were ‘different’ from the usual manipulative, unprincipled, deceitful politicians who pitch for their support. The contempt that many young people now have for the Lib Dems will be hard to remedy.

Clegg should have made the tuition fees vote a red-line issue in the coalition agreement. It was a failure of his political judgement that he did not do so.

Loss of Identity

Few people would suggest that the Tories have lost their principles. Most people know what the Conservatives stand for. This can no longer be said of the Lib Dems. It has all got very fuzzy. On the BBC Andrew Marr programme this morning Clegg said that the lesson he has taken from last Thursday’s elections and the AV defeat was that the Lib Dems failed to communicate effectively. Well Mr Clegg – you are the leader, so that must be your personal failure to communicate. Your dalliance with Cameron and Co has eroded our Lib Dem distinctiveness and alienated millions of voters.

Clegg now wants to assert his position, flexing his political muscles over NHS reform. The problem is that he is not the one to re-establish our integrity and identity. The damage to his credibility has been too deep. The electorate now see him as weak and ineffectual. Many believe he is a Tory at heart. The disillusionment is too great for him to win back their support.

High Stakes Poker needs a ‘ruthless and calculating’ Lib Dem Player

There is much talk today of the risks of the coalition breaking up. Some Tories are saying that if the Lib Dems get too uppity then there will be an election and the Lib Dems will be wiped out.

My analysis is that Cameron would not risk an election now. He likes power and position too much. If there was an election this year then there is every possibility that Labour could end up as the biggest Party and, with the current electoral boundaries, it is very unlikely that the Tories would win outright (although not impossible).

This is a high stakes poker game. It needs a Lib Dem Player willing to call Cameron’s bluff. Clegg appears to like his position as Deputy PM too much to risk losing it and, in my view, he doesn’t have the courage or shrewdness for the game. My choice for such a role would be Chris Huhne. We need a tough operator like him at the top of our Party. The right wing press know he would change the dynamics of the coalition in our favour, hence their attacks on Huhne today.

A Different Agenda

People who are not particularly interested in politics will naturally ask what would change with a new Lib Dem leader. It will be vital to have a clear distinctive Liberal Democrat Agenda. There could be a very long list but as a start my preferred agenda would include:

1. Major investment in transport and green energy infrastructure;
2. No more wars of intervention (unless defending our citizens or direct interests);
3. A clear timetable to put up the tax threshold to £10k (by April 2012 at the latest);
4. A firm ‘No’ to the risky, messy, expensive NHS reorganisation;
5. A ‘Robin Hood’ financial services tax;
6. International action on tax avoidance by the Super Rich;
7. Carefully tapered benefits cuts for those moving into work;
8. Stopping the Trident replacement now before any more money is spent;
9. Instigating a wholesale review of University Tuition Fees with a view to implement reductions and a meaningful cap before 2015, with some targeted subjects being entirely freed from student fees to encourage young people to get qualifications in key areas of benefit to the economic future of our country;
10. Encouragement for foreign students to come here instead of pushing them away (Doh! they bring in money);
11. Splitting up the big banks to reduce future risks and consideration of a wide range of options including mutualisation or transferring ownership to all people on the UK electoral roll!

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In ‘the thick of it’ in Parliament Square

I was in London yesterday and was shocked by events inside and outside Parliament! I saw for myself what happened in the heart of Parliament Square and I heard eloquent and intelligent young people rage against the madness of the Coalition’s tuition fees policy.

The Tory/Lib Dem Coalition government voted to massively increase tuition fees for students. There was heated debate in the House of Commons but Nick Clegg was unapologetic and eager to push the policy through. This was despite huge opposition from young people who protested on the streets of London outside Parliament yesterday.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg appeared arrogant and out of touch in his media interviews. This went down very badly with young people!

Students on Westminster Bridge at around 1pm on 9th December 2010

I saw the protests from both sides of the police lines and saw many injured young people and one injured policeman. There were some upsetting scenes which I chose not to photograph. This included one young man with blood pouring from his head onto the road. There was a whole group of injured young people sat on the pavement. Police at times did seem very heavy handed with the crowds and there was huge anger amongst protesters. See video footage of police horses charging the crowd – unlikely to be shown on Sky!

Students reason with the law

The impact of the Lib Dem leadership voting for the policy was very evident outside as young people challenged police control lines and chanted “Shame on you for turning blue” whenever Clegg’s name was mentioned. He was, of course, called a lot worse.

Sense of Betrayal is Felt by Young People

There was a deep-rooted sense of betrayal amongst young people and probably the majority of the anger was directed at Clegg and his supporters (a reducing number of people as time goes on).

For my part I believe that it’s crucial to be a man or woman of your word. If there is an explicit promise made in writing and on film (and it’s a promise that has no conditions attached ) … well you can’t renege on it – at least not without undermining your credibility with the electorate and feeding the cynical attitude that ‘you’re all as bad as each other’.

Broken Promises Undermine Coalition Politics

The Observer said this on Sunday, “the (tuition fees) furore risks cementing coalition in peoples minds as licence to break promises”. When the referendum on changing the voting system comes there’s a real danger that people will say, ‘well if that’s the result of the kind of coalition that would come from electoral reform, I don’t want to vote for it’.

In any case Clegg did not hold the Party together. His attempt to appear tough with his own MPs backfired badly as more Lib Dem MPs voted against or abstained than voted for the policy put forward by the Lib Dem leadership. Clegg is weakened by this – as is our Party. So a pretty comprehensive disaster Nick! You have managed to deeply damage public trust in our party, particularly amongst young people and you have caused major division in the Lib Dems at the same time.

That is the kind of leadership we can do without.

28 Lib Dem MPs voted in favour of trebling tuition fees proposals, 21 voted against, 8 abstained.

Here are the names of the 21 Lib Dem MPs who voted against the trebling of tuition fees

Mass protest in Parliament Square

George Osborne is attempting to re-write recent economic history.

1. He wants us to believe that the UK is uniquely indebted. This is quite frankly deceitful as explained in my recent blog posts.

2. He wants people to forget that it was the banking sector that caused the world economic crisis and instead seeks to suggest that it was the ‘undeserving poor’ whose extravagant benefits payments sent us into a downward spiral of government debt.

3. He wants us to think that the failure of bank regulation was a peculiarly left-wing phenomenon i.e. Labour were uniquely at fault. The truth is that Thatcher began the process of de-regulation of the financial services sector and the right-wing administration of George W Bush took the same approach in the United States as that taken by Gordon Brown in the UK. It was assumed by the political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic that Financial Services was a ‘Golden Goose’ to be allowed maximum freedom. Right and Left were both seduced by the alchemists of the City.

Let’s remember that alchemy is illusory. Many believe that the smoke and mirrors of financial services can still be a foundation of a strong economy. The gold of the city turned out to be to a great extent Fools Gold. The sooner we wake up to the fact the better.

The scale of the banking bailout is so huge that it puts every other economic mistake of the post war era in the shade.

We simply must develop alternative industries to take the place of financial services. This will require boldness and substantial investment on the part of government. During the General Election the Lib Dems highlighted green technologies as essential to our economic revival, but we have heard precious little since.

I am left wondering where the Coalition thinks the growth and new jobs are going to come from. What is their plan other than savaging the State?

George Osborne told Parliament today that benefit payments to the poor and disadvantaged are to be savagely cut back. Osborne just announced an ADDITIONAL £7 Billion of cuts in benefits, making £18 Billion in all since the Coalition came to power. But the banks will fare somewhat better! No surprise there – Tories always protect their own, but it is shameful that the Lib Dem leadership are going along with this and I speak as a Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate in 2010.

Banks will face some unspecified ‘levy’ which Osborne claims will raise more than Labour’s tax on bonuses last year (£5 Billion). Well I won’t be holding my breath as we all know how clever these bankers are at protecting their money and squandering ours.

The details of the bank levy are due to be announced later this week. Even if the bank levy DOES raise more than £5 Billion per year and I repeat that we don’t have any details yet, this is a paltry sum considering the magnitude of the bank bailout (over £1 TRILLION – that’s £1,000 Billion) and the catastrophic damage to the Western economies that the banks have caused.

So the Tory Toffs (and their new found Lib Dem allies) are going to squeeze the poor whilst protecting the bankers. Same old Tories. Shame on Nick Clegg for going along with it.

The public are being led to believe that the UK’s public debt is somehow worse than anywhere else. This is a barefaced lie. George Osborne says the UK was “on the brink of bankruptcy” when the coalition took over and that “we have the largest budget deficit in the developed world”. Sounds apocalyptic doesn’t it? And of course if his assertions about government debt were true it would help Osborne to argue for ‘savage cuts’.

But the truth is very different. Look at the USA. Last Friday the Washington Post said ‘Total U.S. government debt exceeded 84 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, and most observers expect that percentage to keep growing.’ In Britain it’s just over 60%.

The truth is that many countries have a far higher government debt as a % of their GDP. Take Europe …

The following European countries have a higher debt level (as % of GDP) than the UK:

Netherlands;
Austria;
Ireland;
Spain;
Germany;
Hungary;
France;
Belgium and
Italy

Measures of the annual ‘structural deficits’ of different countries as opposed to their total accumulated debts, suggest that the UK is indeed in a poor position, but it is by no means the worst of all the developed world as Osborne implied on the Andrew Marr programme on BBC 1 yesterday. In fact recent analysis by the IMF shows that the United States’ structural deficit is far worse.

Budget deficits are split into structural and cyclical elements by economists. They estimate that a part of the deficit will be corrected as an economy grows and tax revenues roll in. This is the ‘cyclical’ portion. But there’s also a ‘structural’ portion to the deficit which won’t be corrected just by growth. Of course lots of assumptions have to be made in order to make the estimates of the two different portions of the deficit.

A Warning from Hungary

One thing is clear – if the coalition’s austerity measures stifle growth (as is pretty certain) or worse still if they tip us back into recession, then we could well go the way of Hungary and Ireland – the economic situation will get a LOT worse and the coalition will be to blame.

This warning appeared in a report last week by Eversheds International ‘Hungary acts as a warning for others now considering how quickly to reduce their deficits. It was in an austerity-induced slump in 2007, even before the global downturn, and since being rescued from insolvency by the EU and IMF in 2008 it has been forced to renegotiate budget targets with them because it found that the spending cuts and tax hikes pushed its economy into much deeper recession than expected.’

Savage cuts will weaken the prospects for economic growth, leading to less tax revenue and weakening the ‘cyclical’ portion of the equation. That’s the main reason why the coalition’s economic plans are so flawed.

A Positive Alternative

There is an alternative approach comprising much more modest cuts in government spending; maintaining and significantly increasing major infrastructure projects; massive investment in green technologies (which could in time create hundreds of thousands of jobs) and international action to levy a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on the banking sector. Before we all get locked into the madness of ‘savage cuts’ let’s consider these alternatives and take heed of the warnings coming from the economic disasters of Ireland and Hungary where ‘savage cuts’ have bled their economies dry.

To all who helped in our campaign in SW Surrey and who gave me your vote – thank you

There is of course great disappointment but also a once in a lifetime opportunity for our Party to secure electoral reform and fairness in our voting system. I hope that Nick Clegg will take that opportunity.

Cameron has not ‘sealed the deal’ with the electorate and won their trust.

So far as South West Surrey is concerned we must assess where we are and where we go from here, but for the time being a period of reflection is needed. It must also be said that my opponent Jeremy Hunt has proved a popular MP and I pay tribute to him.

A tsunami of support for the Tories swept across the South of England and we could not stand up against it. But we must also remember our duty to stand by our Liberal Democrat values. Nearly a third of the voters of South West Surrey voted for us and they deserve nothing less.

Mike Simpson

After our successful campaign to save Farnham’s Water Meadows we have launched a new ‘Protect Our Greenspace’ campaign in Badshot Lea

• You will get a fresh voice at Westminster

• I will challenge the political establishment on behalf of ordinary people

• I will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves

• I will work to bring real reform to our political system

• I will live in the constituency, not in London & I will commute to work

• I will not claim for a ‘second home’

• I will work full-time as your MP

What I Stand For

Here’s a summary of my main campaign themes and how I’ve tried to fulfil them over the last 12 months:

I have four campaign themes which dominate my political philosophy:

Speaking up for Ordinary People

• I have spoken out against the plans for the Key Site development in Godalming and fought for affordable housing on the site.
• I have used my position to publicise the plight of Dan Eley, a young man from Godalming who used to work with street children in South America but suffered a broken neck and was left paralyzed, and stuck in Colombia. The Lib Dems put out 14,000 leaflets which publicised Dan’s situation.
• I have been outspoken in respect of the affairs of the standing MP Jeremy Hunt. Hunt has suffered the embarrassment of having to repay over £12,500 of his MP’s expenses claims, after I raised questions at a public meeting in May 2009.

Seeking a Fair Deal for the Vulnerable

• I strongly support the Royal British Legion’s Campaign for better care for returning veterans, having worked with army veterans through the YMCA.
• I am supporting the Act for Justice group in Haslemere, campaigning against human trafficking.

Campaigning for a Sustainable Community

• I chaired the successful campaign to save Farnham’s Water Meadows
• I am now fighting the proposals to double the size of Badshot Lea village
• I raised strong objections to the TAG flights proposal which involved the expansion of Farnborough Airport

Investing in our Children and Teenagers

• Seeking to help and empower young people is key to my agenda, as I have worked with them for many years in my role as a CEO of the YMCA.
• I strongly support the Lib Dems’ plan to phase out University Tuition fees. It’s too late for my own children, but I don’t want to see generations of young people saddled with huge debts just as they start out in life.