The Overall Benefit Cap – a little time bomb under UK buy-to-let housing – Not only is the benefit cap a terrible idea for the people subjected to it, Daniel Davies shows that it has the unintended side effect of causing terrible ripple effects through the rest of UK housing provision.
The Seven Hurdles for Repeal of the Human Rights Act – David Allen Green goes through the hurdles that need to be surmounted before Tories would be able to push through their plan. It’s almost like they didn’t think this through before promising it.
There was an alternative: three things the Lib Dems could have done differently – James Graham on the alternative decisions the party could have made during the last five years.
The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit – “The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.”
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck – Scott Santens on a looming threat to the structure of the US economy as we know it.

, , , , , , ,

Who are the Left? – With demonisation of ‘the Left’ ready to take on again, here’s a handy guide to working out which type of Leftie you are.
What Kind of Leader Do the Lib Dems need? – Tom King looks over the history of Nick Clegg’s leadership before revealing his choice for the future.
Norman Baker looks back over his political career and says farewell after losing his seat last week.
British bill of all kinds of wrong – Alex Marsh on the Tory attitude to human rights. “How many lives in the UK will be improved by the Government’s crass, populist approach to human rights? Very likely none. How many lives globally have already been, indirectly, negatively affected by its stance? Quite possibly thousands.”
The new “skew” of the electoral system in 2015 – Single Member Plurality (or First Past The Post, though no one ever knows where the post is) is a really bad and unrepresentative electoral system, that people study to work out just how unrepresentative it is. Who’d have guessed?

, , , , ,

johnsmithWith many parties in flux right now, it’s a prime time for everyone to offer them advice, especially those outside the party with little to now knowledge of it, yet are absolutely sure they know what the party ought to be doing next. So, Labour people should feel free to completely ignore this on the grounds that I likely don’t know what I’m talking about.

The Labour Party leadership election appears to be taking place under a giant Tony Blair-shaped shadow, with much of the debate seeming to float around which of the candidates is the most Blairite, post-Blairite, worthy of the mantle of Blair etc That’s entirely natural, as Blair remains the only Labour leader to have won an election in the past forty years, but I think it misses a crucial part of the rise of Tony Blair.

The narrative of how Blair ‘made Labour electable again’ often ignores that Blair was not the leader the party turned to after its defeat in 1992. It was John Smith who the party turned to, and he was elected almost by acclaim, defeating Brian Gould by 91% to 9%. It was during Smith’s time as Shadow Chancellor that Labour had started to regain ground on the Tories on economic competence, and when he became leader he chose Gordon Brown to carry on that work as his Shadow Chancellor. Because of that work, when the Tory Government saw a complete collapse of its reputation for economic competence on Black Wednesday in 1992, Labour took a lead in the opinion polls under Smith that that they wouldn’t lose for the rest of the Parliament.

846_bigIt was Smith’s death in 1994 that gave Blair the chance to stand for the party leadership – likely several years before he ever expected it – and go on to become Prime Minister, but the important fact here is that Blair inherited a Labour Party that was already well ahead in the polls and widely expected to form the next Government even if the next election was still as much as three years away. To imagine that it was merely the election of Blair that somehow made Labour electable again is to ignore everything that was done before both by Smith (and Neil Kinnock before him) to put the party into a place where it could be seen as a credible choice again.

Regardless of the qualities of the candidates for the leadership this time, just imagining that electing one of them can magically replicate the Blair effect is to ignore the situation Blair inherited when he became leader. What Labour need is a new John Smith to steady the ship and do the work that needs to be done to reorganise the party’s strategy and policy before handing it over to whoever might be the ‘new Blair’ (or the first Jarvis/Creasy/Kendall/Cooper etc). I would suggest that what Labour need to do with this leadership election is consciously decide that now is not the time to decide who’s going to lead them into the 2020 election but instead a choose someone who’ll lead the party until 2018 or 2019, and do the work to rebuild the party that’s needed while encouraging the potential next leaders to develop their skills and public profiles, but not while being the sole focus of media attention as party leader.

As we’ve seen with Ed Miliband, five years is a long time to be Leader of the Opposition, and plenty of time for the media to slowly roast you while you have very little opportunity to actually do anything. Rather than putting someone else through that pressure again, wouldn’t Labour be better off asking someone like Harriet Harman or Alan Johnson to take on the job as an explicitly interim leader? That way, they can conduct the serious process of rebuilding the party ready to hand it on to their 2020 candidate, instead of thinking that five years of the sort of media pressure that’s made Chuka Umunna quit the contest after a week would be a good thing for any new leader.

, ,

election-590x288I’ve mentioned before how much I’ve been enjoying the University of Cambridge’s Election podcast over the last few months. The format of each podcast follows pretty much the same pattern – a discussion between host David Runciman with regular panellists Helen Thompson, Finbarr Livesey and Chris Brooke, an interview between Runciman and someone usually very interesting with an interesting take on politics, then a closing discussion, discussing some of the topics raised in the interview.

I’d recommend listening to all of them, as even if some of the discussion in the panels might now be out of date as they were very focused on May 7th, the interviews were covering much deeper subjects and had some very interesting perspectives.

This week’s interview guest was Chris Huhne, who Runciman admits was booked principally because they thought we’d be in the midst of coalition negotiations and his perspective having been part of the 2010 ones would be informative. As it was, that wasn’t the case, but Huhne still proves to be a very interesting interview with his perspective on the coalition and the Liberal Democrats, especially in the light of last week’s election result. Huhne talks about some of the issues he raised in the Guardian last year (and others raised before and since) about the party’s strategy, but also talks about his experience of working in coalition and the different approach the two parties took to matters. It’s definitely worth listening to (and fans of interviews with former Liberal Democrat MPs will enjoy the previous week’s edition with David Howarth too).

The team had promised that the podcasts would go on until Britain had a new Government ‘however long that takes’, so I was expecting this to be the final one. However, the realities of the new government have forced them to amend that pledge in the light of events, so there’ll still be a few more weeks of it, before they take a break and then return for the US elections and possibly European referendum next year. Well worth listening to, and I don’t even get commission for recommending them.

, , ,

House_of_Lords_chamber_-_toward_throneMark Pack has news of a call for any Lib Dem appointments to the House of Lords to be used to bring more diversity to the Upper House.

However, I’m reminded of a suggestion I made a couple of years ago, and want to develop that further. What we should do as a party is quite simple: announce that we’re only appointing women to be Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords until we have parity in our group there. Obviously, I’d like to see the Lords abolished and replaced, but until such time (at least five years, as things stand) as that happens we should be taking steps to make our representation within there as representative.

I’d also suggest something else: our selected representatives should be people who’ve never been in Parliament before. Too much of the House of Lords consists of what’s little more than a comfy retirement home for ex-MPs (including those rejected by the electorate) and we should be casting our net much wider if we want to create a radical and diverse group in the Lords. Just putting more former MPs in there doesn’t do anything to promote a wider range of voices in the Lords, and we should be taking what few opportunities we have to do things differently.

Often debated here and elsewhere have been attempts to distill the nature of being a Liberal Democrat down into something simple and easy to understand. A couple of years ago, Alex Wilcock asked for suggestions to get it down to 150 words, but even that generated lots of different visions and visions.

Today, however, I think Jennie Rigg has solved it in a couple of sentences of her post on Lib Dem Voice suggesting a reading list for new members. It’s buried right down in the footnotes, but I think it’s a perfect insight into the party’s culture:

If you go for candidate selection, one of the questions you will be asked is “is there any part of party policy with which you disagree, and if so why?” If your answer is “no, I agree with all of it” you will be looked upon with deep suspicion.

Jennie has an aversion to writing for Lib Dem Voice but it’s clear to me that this is a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ issue. If she can so easily define the party with two sentences, how many other deep-rooted issues could she solve with a casual remark?

, , ,

It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve never spent any significant time in the constituency of any party leader – I’ve passed through a few, but not been in any for a meaningful time – but that will likely change, assuming that Tim Farron or Norman Lamb is the next Liberal Democrat leader.

As MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim gets to represent a large chunk of the Lake District where I’ve spent plenty of time and will be back on holiday later this year. A constituency that includes Ambleside, Coniston, Windermere and Grasmere must be high up there on the list of constituencies most visited by tourists, but my favourite part of it is likely Langdale:

Westmorland from the Langdale Pikes

Westmorland from the Langdale Pikes


However, I’ve also been to Norman’s North Norfolk constituency several times recently, which contains some of Britain’s best-looking beaches, particularly the fantastic wide expanses of Holkham:
Holkham on a clear and cold day

Holkham on a clear and cold day


Whichever of them wins, I don’t think either of them will have trouble having good shots of them at home for the papers, or getting people coming to visit them in their constituency.

, , , , ,