» nick clegg ¦ What You Can Get Away With

An open letter to the British judicial system – From a cyclist, pointing out the ridiculously small sentences handed out to motorists who’ve killed or injured cyclists.
My reply to Nick Clegg’s civil liberties email today – Jo Shaw writes at Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts, asking Nick Clegg to live up to what he says and block the Government’s plans. (And if you’re a Lib Dem who hasn’t signed the petition against secret courts yet, why not?)
Nick Clegg needs to get crunchy again – Jonathan Calder has one of the best takes I’ve seen on Clegg’s recent ‘centre ground’ speech.
The gathering storm – Alex Marsh with a warning about future rises in homelessness.
UKIP are true libertarians – I’m still planning a post on libertarians and the Liberal Democrats at some point, but in the meantime, this is a good piece from Ed Rooksby in the Guardian, pointing out how UKIP are a great example of where the inherent selfishness of right-libertarianism takes you.

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Not a headline I was expecting to give to a blog post any time soon, but occasionally Nick Clegg does speak up in favour of Liberal Democrat party policy. Today he’s talking about drugs and becoming probably the most senior UK politician to make the argument that if you really want to be ‘anti-drugs’ and cut the number of people using drugs and the harm that’s caused, then you need to be in favour of reforming the current system. There’s coverage all over the place of his statements, but see here for an interview with the BBC (and a report of the same), and see here for Clegg talking about it in The Sun and not getting pilloried. Maybe things are changing.

The Sun also has some interesting poll results, which might have influenced the decision not to go after Clegg on this, which shows that 57% of people think government drug policy has worked fairly or very badly in reducing drug use, 60% of people want a Royal Commission to look into drug policy and more people want either decriminalisation (30%) or legalisation (19%) of drug use than those who want the current law to remain (43%).

I’m reminded of an American study I read about three years ago (blogged about by Mark Thompson here) which showed that while a majority of people were in favour of a more liberal policy on drugs, that same majority consistently thought that their view was a minority one. What makes Clegg’s announcement today interesting is that while many politicians have said that the ‘war on drugs’ is failing, they tend to say that when they’re out of office (Jacqui Smith is a recent example). That he’s made it now – and that The Sun has taken it as an exclusive, not as a ‘Batty Lib Dems soft on drugs’ headline – might indicate that the tide is turning. As people see the evidence from Portugal, from the US states that have legalised medical marijuana and more, the message might finally be sinking in that there are alternatives to the ‘war on drugs’ which like many wars is very good for the generals fighting it on both sides, but hell for those caught in the middle of it.

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Including two from the Telegraph, in what’s probably a first:

Drug laws and evidence-based policy: it’s time to start doing experiments on the British people – One day, someone at the Telegraph is going to sack Tom Chivers for injecting sense into their website.
The secret US lobbyists behind Police and Crime Commissioner election – Interesting news from Lincolnshire. (Update: It turns out that this story was based on incorrect information – I suggest following the links in the next few Worth Reading lists for more)
Clegg has quietly resigned from the lightning conductor role – which is to his advantage, but another problem for Cameron – Alistair Campbell’s take. I don’t agree with all of it, but a perspective worth looking at.
An open reply to a self-published author – “So here’s your choice: you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because you haven’t plugged it enough, and as such you can use every channel of desperate huckterdom that the internet provides (and, by heaven, there are dozens more than you’ve yet discovered), you can do anything other than writing more and better in an attempt to shift that product, and you can send more emails like this one hoping for someone to tell you the magic answer to your problem, so long as that answer isn’t “well, you know, maybe your book just wasn’t actually very good?”, and you can spend the rest of your life blaming the unfair world for failing to recognise your genius, despite all the effort you put into telling people that you had it. Or you can decide that your book hasn’t sold because it’s just not as good as its competition in the market.”
Police the police – Liam Pennington makes some good points about the pointlessness of police commissioner elections. However, see also this piece by Chris Williams on the history of municipal policing in Britain for some interesting context.

And as a bonus, not something to read, but look at: how ‘skeptics’ and realists view climate data.

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One of the distinguishing traits of a senior politician is to be in possession of a circle of loquacious friends, always ready to talk to the press about things they don’t feel ready to talk about personally in public. Michael Gove’s friends have been talkative this weekend, telling the Daily Mail all about his views on the European Union.

It’s pretty much just Gove throwing a bone to the Tory Right, of course, saying he’d vote for the UK to leave to the EU, coupled with complaints about how those horrible human rights laws stop him from doing exactly what he wants. This helps us to show us how Gove suffers from two of the problems that befall many of the anti-EU brigade: first, the inability to understand the difference between the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European court; and second, the odd way in which conservatives who talk about limiting state power have an aversion to human rights conventions that protect the power of the citizen against an over-mighty state.

This is just Gove trying to shift the Overton window a few more inches to the right, rather than some major shift in Tory policy – after all, if he was serious about this he’d have said it himself at the Tory conference last week rather than leaving it to some anonymous friends to talk to the Daily Mail. However, the question we should ask if it’s all right for senior Tories to talk about ending our membership of the European Union, why is it so wrong for senior Liberal Democrats to talk about the possibility of ending the coalition?

As I talked about a few weeks ago, the party’s negotiating position in any internal Government discussions is weakened by the insistence that the Coalition must not be allowed to end early:

By saying – explicitly or implicitly – that nothing short of Cameron falling under the proverbial bus or it’s equivalent will make the Liberal Democrats walk away from the negotiating table, the party is drastically weakening its hand in any discussion. It emboldens the Tories to push further to the right, as there’s no counterforce to draw them to the centre if the Liberal Democrats have hidden their most powerful weapon in negotiations. Leaving aside my position that it should end now, I’m not saying that Clegg and Alexander should be threatening to walk out over everything, but if their counterparts don’t believe it’s possible that they will, then they’re dangerously weakened in negotiations.

In the same way that Gove doesn’t state his anti-EU views publicly, we don’t need Clegg giving regular speeches about bringing the coalition down. However, the response to something like Gove’s comments should be senior party figures (other than Lord Oakeshott) pointing out that the natural response to any Tory moves to quit the EU would be the Liberal Democrats quitting the coalition. Both domestically and internationally, the Tories are willing to do their negotiations in public, and Liberal Democrats need to be willing to do that.

If Clegg won’t do it himself, then others need to be given a licence to do so. It’s the role Vince Cable’s carried out at some times, and Chris Huhne did too, but too many other party figures seem to be too tightly wedded to the policy of not rocking the boat. As we’re seeing now over policies like rights for shares, that polite acquiescence is letting dangerous and illiberal policies head towards the statute book, and the party should be willing to fight fire with fire and match the Tory strategy. Otherwise, all the public associates us with is meekly rolling over for whatever the Tories want, unable to walk at any no matter what. The public need to know what the red lines are, and Liberal Democrat silence on them gives the impression they don’t exist.

There’s little else to learn from Michael Gove, but sometimes he’s a useful example.

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As Jonathan Calder thought earlier, when you get an email from someone with the subject ‘There’s no easy way to say this’ you normally expect the body of it to include some form of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

However, the video this email from Nick Clegg linked to didn’t include that, but it was on the same lines, even if it didn’t end with him leaving. The problem I have with it is that all he actually apologises for is the pledge on tuition fees, not the policy itself. A lot of people are putting out the ‘but Labour never apologised for bringing in top-up fees after saying they wouldn’t in their manifesto’, but under the Clegg formulation, all they have to apologise for is putting it in their manifesto, not for the vote itself.

The bigger problem I see is that for years we’ve been telling people that Liberal Democrats care about education at all levels and see it as a public good that the Government should be spending money on. Right back to Paddy Ashdown talking about 1p on income tax for education and beyond, the party has consistently stood up for education. The pledge candidates signed wasn’t just some random electoral gimmick, it was something that had a long history in the party and had remained a core policy – voted for by Conference – despite the leadership trying to water it down or abandon it. We stuck with it – as well as committing the party to other high-profile educational policies like the Pupil Premium – because access to education for all is an important liberal principle.

Politicians are known for saying one thing and doing another, but the issue here is that education – and particularly higher education – was seen as a key Liberal Democrat issue, so a sudden volte face on that hurt the Liberal Democrats a lot more than changes on other issues might. This wasn’t the usual trading of policies and compromise that’s an inevitable part of coalition, but abandoning what the public – if not Clegg himself – saw as a fundamental part of what the Liberal Democrats were about. Saying that the pledge was the problem and claiming it wasn’t affordable, despite the party’s manifesto clearly showing that it was, is to try to turn this into a story of political process, when it should be one of political principle.

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Libertarian Liberties – A quite hair-raising post by Anna Raccoon on some of the bizarre characters who run the Libertarian Party.
NUS Democracy? – Interesting news for us former Student Union hacks, as Free Radical reports on moves to abandon attempts to democratize the NUS from within and instead replace it with something completely different.
No to AV: A campaign of the Tories, by the Tories, for the Tories – Left Foot Forward on where the ‘cross-party’ campaign is getting its money from.
Cleggmania to punchbag – How Clegg inadvertently set this up himself – Interesting take from Matthew Gibson. Not sure he’s entirely right, though I do think there were some mistakes in the emphasis of the campaign after the debates last year. (via)
Raising Katie – Interesting American tale of a black family adopting a white daughter (via)

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You know, I tried not to comment on the whole ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ nonsense, I really did. But then, just when I thought I was out, Lib Dem Voice pulled me back in by printing some of the most vapid nonsense I’ve ever read. Indeed, I initially thought it was a new satirical column, but it turns out that Johnny LeVan-Gilroy is apparently a real person (or ‘a cross-media brand consuming human unit’ as he might refer to himself) and we are meant to take that article seriously. (Admittedly, there is still the possibility that it’s a new version of the Sokal hoax, but it feels unlikely)

OK, so ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ is just some nonsense branding phrase, perhaps a scene from The Thick Of It come to life and almost definitely heading to the same graveyard of forgotten political groupings as David Cameron’s ‘Great Ignored‘. But, what gods have we offended and what sins did we commit in a past life to have this drivel inflicted upon us?

Because of these possibilities, and the fact a national brand is now required, the Liberal Democrats are going to have to wise up to how those demographics consume content, what the media landscape will be like in 2015 and how the party has been about as redundant as an actor in Avatar at being able to communicate to these voters during the periods between elections when brand development is paramount. Becoming closer with News Corp should be key to this as they are the gatekeepers and have a direct phone line to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’.

The party also needs to look at reforming its national capabilities to be more responsive to branding, communicating to demographic groupings and adapting to the new dynamic and opportunities in government and new forms of content consumption. The latter remains the least important right now but it cannot be left to neutral civil services, as this domain has no arbitrators to be editorially objective or neutral.

Silly me, thinking politics is about values, principles, policies and ideology. No, it should be about a content-free world of ‘brand development’ and ‘content consumption’.

Remember when we used to mock Labour for their dependence on spin and soundbites, their lack of any ideology beyond what would drive the next news cycle? Yeah, I should have realised that was all being played out over a soundtrack of ‘you will be like us’.

Whatever marketing-bots like to say, the Lib Dem surge in the election did not come from the anything to do with a world where ‘branding plays as much a part as policy’. It came because people were fed up with micro-managed, content-free, focus grouped to death politics and saw, just for a moment, the prospect of something different. The reason we’re floundering now is not because we’ve failed to ‘be more responsive to branding’ but because we look like we’re becoming just like the other two and operating in a vacuum world of nonsense speak.

The last thing the Liberal Democrats need right now is an influx of drones telling us how to connect to ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ or whatever the next key demographic will turn out to be – my guess is either ‘takeaway temps’ or ‘couch share couples’, but a decent random word generator will help you generate your own – but I fear that’s exactly what we’re going to get.

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