Thursday, April 29, 2010

It is the economy not Mrs Duffy that is "a disaster"

Yesterday is not a day that Gordon Brown will want to relive. He misheard a Labour supporting widow talking about immigrants: she said "flocking", not the well-known expletive. He ranted a little about it in his limousine, and sine his microphone was still live, it was picked up. He then went to make a probably rather insincere apology- which since Mrs Duffy will not now vote Labour was clearly not really accepted. This frankly trivial incident has nevertheless led to the biggest media furore of the entire election campaign, and people are talking now about a Labour meltdown.

Meanwhile, something far more serious has been relatively unreported. Yesterday the European sovereign debt crisis took a drastic turn for the worse. The Greek government can not stabilise their finances without growth, but the collapse of global trade has destroyed their shipping sector, and their failure to tackle their competitiveness problems now makes Greek unit labour costs more than twice that of Germany. The level of debt that Greece took on was unsustainable before- it is now crippling. Meanwhile the adjustments to the national statistics required to show a true picture- as opposed to the false picture that Greek statistics had been showing in order to "qualify" for the Euro- make it nearly impossible for Greece to avoid a default. This would not be the first time that Greece will have defaulted- but the consequences now would include being thrown out of the Eurozone.

The Greek crisis has now spread. Spain, which has had a significant sector- in this case construction- destroyed by the credit crash, now faces similar, albeit less acute, problems to those of Greece. The competitiveness of Spain and its neighbour Portugal has been drastically reduced. A crisis in the Eurozone is now well under way. The German government will simply not support governments that do not comply with the Eurozone rules. It is clear a major adjustment is going to have to take place which will lead to significant changes in the Eurozone, and the possibility of its partial break up.

However, before those who opposed British membership of the Euro gleefully shout "we told you so", they should, perhaps consider the nature of the crisis. I wrote that this is a sovereign debt crisis, but it is the UK that in Europe has most drastically changed its debt position for the worse. Britain on virtually every metric except total debt percentages has weaker numbers than Greece. Despite the "flexibility" that being able to devalue our currency by more than 30% has given us, the country has not been able to take advantage of this- with a savage deterioration of growth, and higher inflation continuing virtually unaffected by the supposed benefits of devaluation. Indeed, the sovereign downgrades that are afflicting Greece, Spain and Portugal are all set to hit the UK too. We are walking a tightrope: too little government cutbacks and the markets will punish our debt markets and our currency still further. Too many cutbacks and the recession will return, leading to the same problems in our debt and currency markets.

The UK is in a place of extraordinary economic danger- and this is the result of the implosion of one of our key sectors: finance. Our economy is not benefiting from our supposedly "flexible" currency, because that is not the nature of the crisis. The crisis is about debt- and the fact that we float the Pound is making the risk premium for holding sterling assets expand still wider, which is why, even in the face of the seriousness of the Eurozone crisis, the Pound continues to fall against the Euro.

The next six months will see the global market place take the measure of the policies put into place by the new government, whoever leads that government. There is little confidence in the competence of the Conservative team, who would have to work hard simply to be taken seriously by the City. The implosion of the Labour campaign makes it hard to believe that the half measures undertaken by Labour will be continued after the election anyway.

There is another way. There is confidence in Vince Cable's analysis of the problems. There is greater confidence in the credibility of the Liberal Democrat budget plans. The success of the Liberal Democrats at this election now gives them a genuine political -as well as a moral- influence.

The electoral system may make Mr. Cameron leader of the largest number of seats, even if the Liberal Democrats out poll him. In such circumstances, the idea of a Conservative minority administration is positively dangerous. The Conservatives would have two choices: to ignore the votes cast and to try to govern alone- with either a minority or very small majority in the face of a growing economic meltdown over uncertainty over how far the Tories can enact their programme, or they can try to create a more secure government and offer an historic olive branch to the Liberal Democrats in the interests of the country at large.

As both Labour and the economy reach the irrevocable end stages of this crisis, Labour is probably finished as a national electoral force. The economy should not be pushed over the edge because the Tories try to put their sectional interest above that of the country. The savage punishment that the voters would mete out to the Conservatives if they try to govern alone upon such a small minority of the vote should be sufficient for Mr. Cameron to at least pause for thought.

All the indicators are very serious indeed for the outlook of the British economy. The crisis we face is as serious of that in Greece, even though we are supposedly benefiting from being out of the Euro. Time is running out. After attacks of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the UK is firmly in the cross hairs. The post-Brown government will need to work hard simply to avoid disaster. For all of us it is incumbent to work together in order to improve things. We know that Nick Clegg has the vision to make the change, the question now is does David Cameron?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why the Tories do not deserve a majority

Amidst all the media hype it is easy to get lost amid smoke and mirrors: The fact is that the betting and the reality of this election is that the Conservatives are set for a majority government, even upon no more than 36% of the vote.

The fact that the Tories genuinely believe that 36% qualifies them for 100% of the power is why the Conservatives should not be given such power.

The Liberal Democrats are going to face attacks from all sides in the last week of this election: and we are more than capable of dealing with the smears and untruths that the other sides are spreading.

The fact is that the economic crisis is systemic, and so is the political crisis. Swapping red for blue will not change the system, it will merely validate it. Unless the Liberal Democrats can disrupt the system, then the Tories will win- and within 6 months will be the most unpopular government in British history. The deep desire of the British people is to change the system that allowed Tory MPs to claim for moat cleaning and the rest of it.

Meanwhile, when the Tories talk about tax changes, they mean abolishing inheritance tax- which will cut the total government income to pay off the deficit. When the Liberal Democrats talk about tax changes they mean increasing the income tax threshold which will be fairer because it benefits the less well off and will still increase the total tax yield. The Lib Dems understand that we are facing an economic crisis: after all Vince Cable warned us about it four years ago. The defence review will be critical for future cuts, so will the review of every other department, which is why, unlike the other two parties, the Lib Dems can not exclude cuts in any department: unpopular: certainly, necessary: definitely.

Mr Cameron expects to win this election. If he does, then nothing will change. If the Liberal Democrats win enough, then the system must change, and if it changes, then everything else will change. Unless it does, we will face no real change at all: only a swap of the red hegemony for the blue. The Con/Lab stitch up that has damaged our country so much over the past 80 years will simply continue.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Conservatives doublethink on change

The spectacular breakdown of the financial industry and the drastic economic upheavals that have followed, left most politicians struggling simply to keep up with events.

The exposure of a ramshackle, and slightly corrupt system of expenses in Parliament has hugely discredited the political class.

All of this left voters very angry, fearful and frustrated. The general feeling is one of contempt for politicians in general and -as they were in government- for Labour in particular. So, despite the fact that Conservatives were more guilty than most on the expenses farrago, and despite the fact that George Osborne has earned little more than mockery amongst business and financial leaders, the Conservatives could have looked a reasonably fair bet to take over the government.

However, even that would not have been easy: the electoral system, which the Tories still support, nevertheless has been working against them in recent years. The number of seats that the Tories need to win is quite difficult to gain, unless the Tory lead is very substantial. Only occasionally has it looked like Mr. Cameron would be able to gain to 40% or more of the votes that could make him certain of victory.

Then again, many voters are still not sure that Mr. Cameron and his colleagues deserve victory. The Conservative front bench consists of a clique of like minded political hacks who have little or no experience of life in business, or any other kind of administration. Young, generally public school educated, these careerists are focused on the mechanics of politics but not, most assuredly not, too much on the principles and ideas of politics. For their view, as was Tony Blair's, is that power is essentially a matter of pragmatism: to do "what works". The problem is that with no moral or ideological compass, "what works" soon descends into a cynical exercise in public relations as politicians attempt to spin that whatever they have done, is indeed "working".

In that sense Blair and Cameron are cut from the same shallow cloth of hype and spin.

David Cameron entered this election with proposals on deficit management that were not massively different in scale at all from the other two parties. Indeed the biggest difference is simply in the timing of the large scale cutbacks that are needed. The devil was rather in the detail. The Labour Party intended to raise taxes pretty much across the board in order to preserve what they could of their spending programmes.

The Liberal Democrats advocated re-balancing the tax system so that the poor- who are currently disproportionately taxed- would have a lower overall income tax burden and that taxes and benefits would be integrated so that the massive system of cumbersome tax credits could be phased out- reducing the cost of administration, amongst other benefits.

The Conservatives wanted to target their tax changes towards assets, in particular raising inheritance tax thresholds -or even scrapping IHT altogether The problem is that this primarily benefits the more wealthy, and does nothing to deal with the overtaxing of the poor, who have been hit the worst by the economic crisis.

Meanwhile the Tories propose to put the tired issue of fox hunting back on the political agenda_ in order to restore the right to hunt. Personally I don't care about hunting too much one way or they other- though it is not something that I could ever imagine wanted to do, and I would have followed Lembit Opik's amendment to allow hunting, but under a system of controls. What I do resent is that so much of the Parliamentary time that I pay for has been wasted on such a peripheral issue. I find it quite irritating that one of the few definite policies the Tories have proposed over the past two years, was to bring back fox hunting.

So when you get down to it, the Tories are not really offering much change. They want to keep the electoral system that allows them to take a Buggin's turn at power, they want to keep the poor over-taxed, and even reduce the tax burden further on the relatively wealthy. They want to continue the fairly unprincipled approach to politics pioneered by Tony Blair. Oh and they want to bring back fox hunting (whoopee).

What change is this really?

Within six months we would be as heartily sick of the Tories as we are of Labour now.

In fact if the British people actually want change, then they must change the system.

The political system that allows cliques and cabals to control parties with little say-so from members and voters alike. The political system that closes down debate as open as it airs it. The political system that ignores a near majority of the votes cast. The political system where newspapers work covertly with the political parties they support in order to misrepresent and distort the policies of the other parties, The secretive, dishonest and increasingly corrupt political system presided over by Tories and Labour alike for decade after decade.

The Tories offer only gimmicks- such as absurd primaries- which they intend to keep tight control over. They do not offer the British people the far greater involvement and control over government that is the cornerstone of the Liberal Democrat agenda.

The British people deserve better than the half-baked ideas of the Tories. They deserve instead the well crafted and integrated programme of reform that the Liberal Democrats have drafted, based on clear principles of openness and accountability.

The British people deserve the economic competence of the the professional economist in Dr. Vince Cable, not the callow posturings of the out-of-his-depth George Osborne. The credibility of those who have worked in business at the highest level, like David Laws, Susan Kramer, Chris Huhne, not the inexperience of- well -virtually all of the Tory front bench.

The British people deserve to be respected and listened to when they express a view- not to have their views subverted so that they can then be ignored.

David Cameron offers no change to the system that has failed. He just wants to keep the roundabout going- and Britain will be the poorer if he and his clique of schoolboy cronies were to succeed.

This time, Nick Clegg has demonstrated that there is a choice and it is real radical and fundamental change. The transformation of our closed political system into something more open, more accountable to the British people. The death of the Labour government is certain, but there is another way. In the next 10 days I shall be campaigning to persuade the people in the North East of Scotland that Socialism is dead, Independence is a chimera, and that the Liberal Democrats -and not the Conservatives- mean what they say about overthrowing the current political system and bringing political and economic reform- real change- to this country.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The downfall of the Labour Party?

How much worse can it get for Labour?

The trend in the polls looks pretty awful for them, and there is clearly no atmosphere of peace and love in their campaign either. Judging by the ground war, Labour seem very short of money and very short of activists. There is a real chance that Labour will come third in votes already. The question that is going to be asked pretty soon is whether the scale of the Labour collapse gets so big that they start to lose a large number of seats. This asks two more questions: which seats and to which of the other two parties ? A Hung Parliament is still pretty likely - if the polls stay roughly where they are. If, however, Labour falls significantly below their current polling average of about 27%, which was thought to be pretty much their core vote, then it could get pretty catastrophic for them.

In 1997 we saw Labour elected on an unexpected and unprecedented landslide. Could 2010 see them removed in an unprecedented and unexpected obliteration? For sure Labour have not been giving the voters too many reasons to support them. For sure Gordon Brown has been graceless and uninspiring- "Women, and you are one", and other clunky howlers. Even worse though, has been the total lack of self belief. "Socialism" as an ideology has been intellectually bankrupt for at least twenty years, but the cynical and unprincipled charlatanism of the Blair "project" somehow kept the show on the road for the Labour Party. Now, with the three-ring circus of the Blair ego now gone, the light has gone out of their eyes. The zombie party could finally be facing its inevitable doom. The fact that Labour seems to have effectively been playing for a draw does not look like tactics, but more like political suicide. The Labour Party has now only got ten days to recover any ground or indeed give anyone a reason to vote for them. In fact the postal votes, which have been issued in high numbers this election, are now beginning to come back. A significant number of people have therefore already voted in large numbers for the Liberal Democrats. The door for Labour is already closing. For the Tories, the mood music is probably slightly improving, although there is increasing bitterness and rancour amongst their campaign team, as simple exhaustion sets in. Certainly I do not think that George Osborne has covered himself in glory by trying to cover the Lib Dems in the brown stuff. In terms of the popular vote, it is pretty unlikely that the Conservatives can move up very much from the low-mid thirties in the polls, but the Labour collapse might mean that the Tories could snatch a small majority.

The real work for the Liberal Democrats is now beginning. Obviously the party is seeking to maximise its vote and maximise its tally of seats in the House of Commons. The party is riding a wave of revulsion at the old style politics of the Conservatives and Labour- and the concerted smear attacks by the Tory press just shows how much George Osborne and Andy Coulson owe to Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell.

The Tories are hoping that the Labour collapse is small enough to essentially split the anti-Conservative vote and allow the Tories to get a majority government despite only getting a bear third of the vote. I think there would be burning resentment amongst the voters at such a result, and demands for a fairer voting system have grown ever louder through the campaign. That resentment would be fuelled further by the fact that the Tories are pledged to ignore any call for a change in the system. This election has become about who is ready to enact the real constitutional reform the country needs: it is demonstrably not the Conservatives, and the cynical partial measures proposed by Labour are too little and too late to give them any credibility.

As we lead into the last full week in the campaign, Labour are falling to bits, but despite the dirty work of their media supporters, the Tories have still not sealed the deal. There is still the chance that the Liberal Democrats can make such a strong advance that economic sense and real political reform can be the priorities of the next government, instead of the callow bromides of Cameron and Osborne.

In that sense - and most unexpectedly- the battle of the next few days will be to see whether the the Liberal Democrats can seal the deal, and take sufficient support from both Labour and the Conservatives to ensure that the agenda of reform that we propose, and which the British people generally support, can now be put into government.

UPDATE: the Labour rally just finished, Lame celebrity endorsements, Elvis endorsements and all, is such a car crash, that it is hard not to think that Labour are now in a death spiral.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Clegg cruises in the debate

Just to add my sixpence worth on the second leaders' TV debate. I think Brown and Cameron raised their games. Nick Clegg was a bit flatter than last week, but he was still scored as either first (by most observers) or very close second to Cameron (by Tory supporters). Despite the attempt to smear the Liberal Democrats back down in the polls, and to launch personal attacks on Clegg ahead of the debate, Nick Clegg was generally unruffled and again did well.

That Cameron did better than last time is not enough: he needed to obliterate the memory of the last bravura performance from Nick Clegg- and he couldn't do it. Although he tried to talk to the camera, he was more clunky- it was obviously something he had been told to do, and it looked uncomfortable. This was not the game changer that it needed to be for the Tories.

I think that the third debate will not be a game changer either. We will need to absorb the impact of the concerted Conservative smear campaign against the Liberal Democrats- which might end up hurting the Tories at least as much as the Lib Dems. However, it now seems highly likely that the Liberal Democrats are on course for a sensational result. What happens next is less clear, my personal view is that it is most likely that the next government will be a minority: and that will take us into a new situation in British politics.

Nick Clegg maintained momentum, and could not be disrupted by Brown or Cameron- in the end that is probably going to be sufficient to prevent the Lab/Con duopoly from continuing unchecked. The British people are showing their distrust of the power of the Lab/Con system and their disgust are where it has brought us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Best Volcano joke so far

It was the last wish of the Icelandic economy that its ashes be scattered across Europe. No flowers by request.

The Liberal Democrat surge is killing the Dead tree press

I do not think I have ever seen such a concerted attack by the press against one man in a single day. The range of headlines from the Daily Mail "Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain", The Sun "Wobble Democrat", The Daily Telegraph "Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem donors and the payments into his private account", The Daily Express "Clegg's crazy immigration policy", the FT, "Clarke unleashed to attack Liberal Democrats", Metro "Lib Dems plan new house tax".

The problem for the press is that the attack is so random, it looks rather like a drunk in a pub car park: full of noisy rage, but not actually focused enough to land much of a punch on their opponent. The message from this spasm in the newspapers is not that the Liberal Democrats are crazy, corrupt, or even Nazis (a sure sign that the Mail has lost it there, I think): it is that a large block of vested right wing interests are desperate to stop the Liberal Democrats at any cost.

After Clegg's success in the leaders debate, the Conservatives tried to say that the policy of not replacing Trident like for like was the same as unilateral nuclear disarmament. This was completely untrue- and there must have been some rage amongst these smear merchants when three generals publicly supported the Liberal Democrat position. The transparent way that the Conservatives and their allies in the press tried to distort Liberal Democrat policies was so obvious - and it didn't work. A close examination of Liberal Democrat policies showed that there was much that was genuinely popular in what they were saying. The blip in the polls ended up being sustained.

Now the press themselves are beginning to fear what the power of the Liberal Democrats could do to them directly. Apart from the occasional support of The Independent, not one newspaper supports the Liberal Democrats. Instead the press entered into a cosy relationship with the other two parties. The Telegraph, Mail and Express mostly reliably Conservative, The Guardian and Daily Mirror reliably Labour, while Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, The Sun and The Times swing between the two, depending upon the proprietor's own political calculations. The endorsement of a newspaper for one or another political party was once a big thing- and the value that political leaders put on it could be measured in the amount of political patronage goodies: gongs, knighthoods and the odd peerage that were doled out to editors and columnists deemed to be influential.

Of course over the course of the past 4o years, the power of television weakened the power of the press- but the influence of the press still remained substantial enough.

However, the first Leader's debate was a catastrophic challenge to the press because TV is a far more immediate medium. Instead of second hand opinion disguised as news, people can directly judge for themselves the three leaders- and they clearly liked what they saw in Nick Clegg.

Even worse for the press, in this election the Liberal Democrats have been fighting a highly effective insurgent campaign on the Internet. Although the Lib Dems are much poorer than the other two parties, and do not have the support of the newspapers, the low cost and more open nature of the debate in such places as blogs and Facebook has evened up the disadvantage that the party faced. The Lib Dem poll surge has been particularly strong amongst younger voters: precisely the same people most comfortable with the new media. In other words, the power of the press is declining drastically. The posturing of the Daily Mail has been lampooned highly effectively- appropriately enough on YouTube. More and more the press are seen not as "tribunes of the people" keeping the political class honest but poisonous propagandists determined to protect their own vested interest in the system.

However, the fact is that the trends that are weakening the press- especially the Internet- are irreversible. The impact of such programmes as The Thick of It have alerted voters- even if only subliminally- to the way in which the media is part of a process of political manipulation. The result is that we are all far more cynical about the news we see in the press or on the TV. It is so much harder to manipulate blogs in the same way: bias is spotted earlier (and usually declared upfront anyway) and smears and inaccuracies are challenged quickly, and usually with equal aggression.

The more aggressively the press tries to smear Nick Clegg or the Liberal Democrats, or tries to denigrate the poll surge as some kind of flash in the pan, the more it underlines the Liberal Democrat narrative that the only way to get real reform is to vote for them. I am sure that the polls will flutter a bit in the face of this onslaught, but the fact is that the British people are so sick of the cynical corruption of the political system, that they are prepared to ignore the press which is screaming at them not to vote Liberal Democrat. The obvious plant of the daily Telegraph is such a complete smear that the story is not really about Nick Clegg, but the kind of dirty tricks that planted the story and allowed it to be published- and what their reasons were for doing so. Indeed on the blogs Conservatives were hotly denying that the story was anything to do with them- so obvious a piece of media manipulation is it. The fact is the Tories are playing very dirty- so desperate have they become to stop the Liberal Democrat juggernaut from creating a minority Parliament where reform is inevitable.

The Conservatives will claim that a majority of one, even if they only get less than 33% of the vote, still gives them a mandate for 100% power. It doesn't, it won't and were the Tories to be so contemptuous of the way that people actually voted, then they would quickly face a political breakdown. In fact the case of political, constitutional and electoral reform is unanswerable.

It is not the Lab/Con dominated political class that will deliver reform. It is not the dead tree press and the old media that will support it. As a kind of revolution begins to grip the political system, it is the new media that is in the vanguard of the battle and the Liberal Democrats who, untainted by the cosy deals with the press barons of the past, can shape the debate about how we can work together to deliver a better politics for our country.

The spasm of rage in today's press simply underlines the decline of the press and their increasing inability to frame debate on the issues or shape public opinion. This impotence in the face of the whirlwind of blogs and new media will mark another point in their decline. If the Liberal Democrats come through this media shitstorm- as I think they will- then the Nick Clegg's party will have even less interest in reviving the cosy patronage of past years.

The disgrace of today's front pages underlines the increasing pace of the decline of the press.

Of course the Youtube generation doesn't read them anyway, and probably thinks that if Jan Moir, Richard Littlejohn, and the rest are united in fear and hatred of the Liberal Democrats, then Nick Clegg must be doing something right.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Breaking the Mould

As another poll puts the Liberal Democrats on top, it is pretty clear that whatever happens over the next few days, the party is going to reach levels of support not seen for nearly a century.

To be absolutely frank, it is a fantastic but daunting prospect. The party will immediately face two crises: one will be the constitutional wrangling of a minority Parliament, the second will be the continuing economic crisis.

Barring a fluke, there seems no chance for the Conservatives or Labour to form a majority government, and the Parliament seems set to be "well hung" (not a tribute to Nick Clegg's supposed potency, but to the fact that the Liberal Democrats could choose between the other two parties as to who they wanted to work with). Indeed there is an outside chance that the Liberal Democrats could end up with a plurality of seats, though this is still, for the moment, less likely. In any event, the sharp surge in support for the Liberal Democrats of the kind the polls are suggesting, is now the trend would give Nick Clegg dramatic moral legitimacy to dictate terms to the other two parties.

In my view, this is not to make a choice of coalition: it is to offer the other parties a joint coalition over two years while the constitutional changes that the public want are enacted and a serious attempt is made to tackle the UK debt crisis.

The first issues to address should be constitutional: introducing STV, with or without a referendum should be the first priority (a crushing Lib Dem victory gives the party a mandate to move as it sees fit in this area). I think the less open or fair systems of AV and AV+ should be rejected. After electoral reform for the House of Commons, I think that the Liberal Democrats should offer a constitutional convention to discuss such issues as the way to reform the House of Lords. It would be far better to make the drafting of a new constitution an all party affair- in a way that Blair did not. The issue of the "English anomaly" needs to be addressed: either a single Parliament or regional Parliaments, to be agreed by consensus or by referendum if necessary. In any event, no matter what, the Liberal Democrats will need to reach out to the other two parties in order to build a new political system that can improve upon the old one.

With economic policy, the outlook is also unstable, and the minority Parliament is going to need all parties to work together in order to address the crisis hee too. It is, I think perfectly reasonable to ask that Vince Cable goes to the Treasury- he is the single most trusted politician on the economy, and so this is the second measure for Nick Clegg to insist upon. A unity government will need to agree some wrenching changes to government expenditure, but there is a basic consensus emerging across the parties about how to tackle this: which was demonstrated during the Chancellors debate.

Even if Nick Clegg were able to achieve a majority Liberal Democrat government, even if he could become Prime Minister as the leader of a minority government, in my view we should be proposing a joint administration if the election result justifies it.

If any other party tries to form a minority government without Liberal Democrat approval then the Liberal Democrats would be well within their rights to vote down a budget or Queens Speech that was proposed on those terms. The message that these polls are sending is that the public expects a new form of politics- and the same old Punch-and-Judy now will not do.

This surge is a challenge to all of the parties, including the Liberal Democrats themselves- it is so unexpected that few will have been prepared for the scale of the change- however welcome that change turns out to be- so the aftermath of the election is going to need much careful thought- and very clear focus on the core issues, values and interests of the Liberal Democrats and more, of the UK as a whole.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Liberal Democrats and the new media

Interesting times to be a Liberal Democrat.

One feature of the campaign that is only slowly being picked up is that the contest is shifting from the old battlefield of newspaper columns to the new battlefield of the new media: not just blogs, but Facebook and the rest of it. This is undermining a key advantage for both Labour and the Conservatives: the influence of the press. At the last election only The Independent was prepared to endorse the Liberal Democrats, while all the others endorsed to other two parties. That position seems set to be repeated. The Conservatives will gain the support of the Murdoch media, and doubtless hang on to the motley crew of the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Labour will keep the Daily Mirror and The Guardian. None of it may make any difference.

The fact is that the old system of newspapers endorsing political parties (and often gaining knighthoods and peerages for their editors) smacks of 19th century patronage. This election has been about the dis-intermediation of politics. Where television in the 1960s impacted the political process, now it is the new media. Here, the Liberal Democrats have been fighting a highly successful insurgent campaign on such sites as Facebook- and in cyberspace you don't need to spend money on expensive newspaper and poster advertising. The money gap that benefits the Tories and Labour alike is not an issue in the new media.

I might have though that the Conservatives could have fought more effectively, after all their bloggers, such as Iain Dale, have been the market leaders over several years. Yet bloggers seem to be largely middle aged- hmm hmm- men. Twitter and Facebook is younger and more diverse. It is therefore not just the debates that have driven the surge of Lib Dem support: it is also the campaign that is being fought in cyberspace.

I don't know that the Internet campaign will be decisive, but I do think that the 2010 campaign is being more evenly fought as well as more open, as the result of these innovations. The newspapers are seeing a further nail in their coffin being hammered in by this campaign.

Tory Panic at Lib Dem advance

The opinion polls have made very interesting reading this morning. I imagine that the Conservative and Labour leadership and their advisers are feeling somewhat concerned about their prospects. Both parties are going backwards in this campaign.

The problem that both Labour and the Conservatives face is that the surge in support for the Liberal Democrats is not just about the good performance that Nick Clegg put in to the first television debate- though this may have come as a surprise to them, used as they are to Prime Minister's question time, where he is usually marginalised. The fact is that Liberal Democrat support was already growing well before the debate took place: Vince Cable had already won the Chancellors debate, and the Liberal Democrat manifesto was also well received.

The "Clegg surge" has not come out of a clear sky: there had already been signs that the Liberal Democrats were set for a good performance. The other two parties are now facing something that British politics has not seen in decades: a political tipping point for reform. The expenses scandal underlined to the British people the corruption of the current constitution. The economic crisis underlined the intellectual bankruptcy of politicians who preferred to ignore the credit bubble and who were so deluded that they thought they could simply decree an end to the economic cycle- or as they put it "an end to boom and bust". The fact that politics had been hijacked by unprincipled advertising merchants who talked about political brands, rather than political ideals made the British people, quite rightly, angry, cynical and disgusted with the political class en masse.

Some commentators have suggested that the Liberal Democrats are also part of the political class, and view with hostility our claims to be different. However there is a very simple test: who has all the money? The Conservatives have the donations from Ashcroft and several other millionaires, Labour the millions from the Unions. The Liberal Democrat dodgy donations? Yes, Michael Brown was a crook but his donation was accepted legally and the party has been found to have acted in good faith by the independent regulator. More to the point, he was not offered any special benefit by the party- and certainly not a peerage in exchange for donations. On expenses: the Lib Dem MPs were generally found to have also acted in good faith, and where sums needed to be repaid, they were on average a few hundred pounds: Conservatives have been repaying tens of thousands, and several Labour figures are facing criminal charges. So it is simply not true that "you are all the same". The fact is that this election the Conservatives will be spending more than any political party has ever spent on a campaign. The Liberal Democrats, as usual, will be working on a shoe-string: we may have not have very much money, but we also owe no-one any favours.

This leaves Labour and the Conservatives with a problem. they can hardly open up an attack on the Lib Dems when their own record in that area is so much worse.

The Tory problems are particularly acute, because they will not engage in an argument about policies. The shadow cabinet has tried to open up an attack on the Liberal Democrats over Europe by saying that Mr. Clegg's Party "supports a European super state". Does he take the British people for fools? It is the work of seconds to examine the Liberal Democrat manifesto and see that this Tory line of attack is simply not true. The Liberal Democrats support our membership of the European Union and say so. The Conservatives make hostile noises, but they do not support withdrawal from the EU- no matter what mood they try to convey. If they did support withdrawal, it might be a lot more honest- but it would show the scale of the economic crisis and dislocation that leaving would involve. Mr. Cameron when faced with the question EU: in or out, replies "In, but it needs changes". Mr. Clegg says we should be "in" and make changes too. No one supports an EU super-state, and the Tories by pretending that the Liberal Democrats do are just playing the politics of the playground that is what is turning off the voters about the entire current system. Even the Euro is a matter for debate: we can not join anytime soon anyway, but if we could, in what way would controlling the economy with structural discipline be worse than devaluing the Pound by 30%? There is a big price for an independent currency, and in a few years we may well decide that it is not worth paying: but that must be based on a sober and a fair assessment of what is in the best economic and political interests of our country in the long term: it is not some kind of "betrayal" or the "end of the UK" which the Tories and their allies in the Daily Mail are screaming at us so shrilly.

The Tories take a Liberal Democrat position and instead of debating it on its merits, they try to say that the Liberal Democrats have adopted a position that they find easier to oppose: instead of a debate about the future of the EU and our role within it, they try to say that "the Lib Dems support the abolition of Britain"; instead of a debate about what kind of immigration we need and how it should be controlled, they say that the Liberal Democrats will simply "open the doors to unregulated immigration". in fact the amnesty for illegals already in the country is a necessary first step to setting up a tighter system of controls that bring more of the people we need: skilled workers; is fairer to the people we have a responsibility too: refugees; and which keeps out undesirables. When Conservatives, UKIP and the rest talk about stopping any immigration whatsoever, they are stupid, not just legally and morally, but also economically too. There is a price for immigration, but there are also benefits- the question is to set rules that are fair and effective and which brings the maximum benefit to our country. A Tory smear about "opening the flood gates" is just childish.

The Tories may be offensive about Liberal Democrat policies, but I for one am not defensive. I believe that the thought and work of decades that has gone into our policies will show them to be robust and well crafted. Bring on the scrutiny I say! Let us have a real examination- instead of shrill smears, let us have a reasonable discussion- let us concede that no party has all the answers and that combining ideas is sensible and not shabby compromise. That would be a whole new political world: one where politicians can talk about ideas and not image, talk about policies and not patronage and put the national interest before the sectional one. Above all let us have a debate where shrill smears and straightforward lies can be treated with the contempt that they deserve.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

After the debate

Victor Hugo once wrote that "On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées", which is usually translated as "There is no power on Earth that can resist an idea whose time has come".

Amidst the Liberal Democrat euphoria after the decisive victory of Nick Clegg in the leader's debate, a few people have become rather excitable about the prospects for the party this election. The immediate, dramatic moves in the first opinion polls do not yet mean that the Liberal Democrats are poised for government. However, what they do mean is that the voters may now be prepared to listen the the party's ideas in a way that they were not doing previously. It may also mean that the threat from the Conservative Party in many of our own seats has now been checked- though even this is far from certain. It probably does mean that several hoped-for gains may now materialise. In short, the Liberal Democrats may be able to hold what they have and make gains- and that seemed a wild hope only three months ago.

The next phase of the campaign is now going to start, and the temptation for the Conservatives may well be to launch an all-out attack on the Liberal Democrats. This, however has got to be done exceptionally carefully- the voters are saying that they don't want the old style politics, and negative attacks could easily backfire. The Tories, for the moment, still think that they can ignore and patronise the Liberal Democrats- but if the spike in Lib Dem support continues, then they will certainly move into attack mode. As for Labour, the hapless performance of Gordon Brown is a clear problem. They have tried to love-bomb the Lib Dems. Such a wooing is not really taken seriously in Cowley St, because the Liberal Democrats will need to protect their Tory flank- attacking Labour is the best way to do this, but it could be significant later. The hostility that the Conservatives feel may mean that the Tories may refuse to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and yet not have sufficient support to go it alone.

In the aftermath, many punters are being tempted towards hyperbole: words like "game-changer", "tipping point" and even our old friend "breaking the mould" are being mentioned. After so-many election disappointments, I remain a little cautious. However something big did happen in the first debate: the British people- disillusioned with the Labour government and only luke-warm about what is seen as a slick, PR driven Conservative Party have now begun to think that the Liberal Democrats offer a really different agenda. It is an agenda that they recognise as bringing about the rather inchoate desire for "change" in the wake of the economic disaster and political scandals that have beset Britain in the last five years. They like what they see: Vince Cable and Nick Clegg are a more inspiring team than George Osborne and David Cameron, let alone Gordon Brown and Gordon Brown. Perhaps they recognise that the Liberal Democrats have been in the right on some important issues: the economy and the Iraq war not least. They may understand that the Liberal Democrats ideas on constitutional change rest on a commitment of decades of clear principles.

Most importantly though the voters are beginning to alter their attitude to the party from "Liberal Democrats: Why bother?", to "Liberal Democrats: Why Not?". That does not mean that we have won their votes, but it does mean that we have got them listening.

Now the Party is going to have its mettle tested in a way that we have never seen before. Our ideas will rightly be scrutinised in far more detail. Our candidates will come under pressure. There will be damage and embarassment along the way: no party is perfect. However, this examination will be nothing compared to the test of responsibility if the election does deliver a minority Parliament. The focus and discipline that will now be required will be beyond anything we have ever known. However we should be grateful that after so many years of setbacks and false dawns, that finally we can put forward our views without the sniping that they are irrelevant and that a vote for our party is simply a "wasted vote".

I have believed for a while that the Liberal Democrats may do better in 2010 than we did in 2005. The question for the last phase of the campaign will be simply how much better can we do? That question will irritate Conservatives, many of whom still think that their victory is both likely and necessary, but it should terrify Labour, whose failure to replace Gordon Brown when they had the chance now looks like a death wish.

When- or should I say "if", given the problems of the volcanic cloud- I return to the UK, I shall join the campaign in Scotland with renewed determination and hope. Hope that at last the country can finally escape the shackles of a political system constructed for the 19th century, not the 21st century. Hope that the big state of Labour can be replaced not by the "Big Society" of the Cameroons, but a genuinely Liberal country where people make decisions for themselves.

An idea whose time has come? I still believe it is worth the fight.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mood Music

I see Ken Clarke believes that the Scottish Conservative manifesto should "strike a chord" with the Scottish people...

Alas I think he is mistaken, I think it is more likely to ring a bell- and the dwindling support for the Conservatives north of the border seems set to continue: having hoped for at least five seats, they are now favourites in only two. The Conservatives thus seem set to remain very much a party on the fringes of Scottish politics. People have not forgotten nor forgiven the outrageous way that the Conservatives behaved under both John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

As we await the first television debate, it will be interesting to see if Mr. Cameron has truly "decontaminated" the Conservative brand- he doesn't seem to have done so in Scotland at any rate.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Watching the Leaders debate

Alas! I will be in Vilnius speaking at an economics conference, so will not be able to watch the first leaders debate- at least not live. It is quite a moment - the first time anything like this has happened in British electoral history. The historic excuse for not doing so was ostensibly because the British system is Parliamentary, not Presidential. However, as power has been centralised on 10 Downing St, so the resistance to the idea of a debate has fallen.

It will be - of course- a highly managed affair, though David Cameron tried to pretend today that the rigid restrictions were nothing to do with him, in fact the Tory minders, such as Andy Coulson, pretty much dictated the rules: so if Mr. Cameron thinks the debate might be "slow" he has only himself to blame. In fact Cameron is on very thin ice- he has a record of breaking down at interviews, the latest with Gay Times, was particularly excruciating, but he has also done it on Sky too. It is no wonder that he is trying to avoid being grilled by Jeremy Paxman.

Expectations in the Tory Camp are being heavily managed, but there is no doubt that Cameron- and his minders- will be relieved to get out of the studio unmarked. As for Brown; expectations are so low that he is hardly under pressure at all, while Nick Clegg will be so pleased to be in the studio at all, that he may be much faster at thinking on his feet.

The debate is a genuine innovation, but I wonder if at the end it will not be scored- as it is intended to be- as a no-score draw. It would be a pity if the leaders become trapped in the rigidity of the format and their own cowardice, but I suppose this is would is most likely.

Still- one can hope, and maybe something dramatic may yet happen.

Politics and Anti-Politics

The 2010 general election campaign is now just over a week old, and much about it so far has been fairly predictable. However one thing has turned out not to be predictable: the way that disenchantment with the British political process is leading to considerable support for a new Parliament where no party has complete control.

In fact in my lifetime, no political party has ever attained a majority of the vote, however with the exception of just a few months in 1974 and 1979, the electoral system has usually delivered a majority to the largest minority- except in 1974, where the Labour Party gained more seats, but actually obtained less votes than the Conservatives: in other words, the electoral system can sometimes deliver some pretty erratic results. Usually, however, the bulk of MPs are elected for seats which are not competitive for other parties, the so-called "safe seats"- it takes such an exceptional set of circumstances to change the political party in those seats, that it very rarely happens- if ever. So on the one hand we have a lot of MPs who can not lose their seats, on the other, the election becomes focused on the smaller number of seats which are actually competitive, that is where the gap between parties is small enough to hold out the possibility of any change.

For many people, these "safe seats" have something of the flavour of a 19th century "rotten borough" about them, since there is very little sanction that the electorate can have over their MP, except to vote for a different political party- one whose views they may not agree with- in order to remove the MP they disapprove of. Indeed this "tactical voting" has become much more common in recent years. Nevertheless there is something unsatisfying to make a forced choice of a party whose views may not be in much agreement with your own. For some, their distaste for this is mitigated by the idea that at least the "first past the post" system delivers strong government, by which they mean a single party government. Nevertheless that feeling is growing much less sustainable in the face of the repeated failures of single party government: failures often caused by an unwillingness to listen to other points of view and adjust policies accordingly. In fact governments since 1979 have fallen under the control of an ever narrower circle of political advisers- most of whom are not even elected. The electoral system has encouraged a private and secretive government to make decisions for party advantage rather than the national interest.

The latest opinion polls suggest that the electorate may have lost patience with a political elite that it now sees as arrogant, out of touch and increasingly sleazy. Support for a single party government of either Labour or Conservative has fallen behind a dramatic surge in support for the idea of a government where no party has complete control, which is sometimes called a Hung Parliament, though I prefer the Canadian term a "Minority Parliament" since it more accurately reflects what the position is.

Of course, actually voting for a Minority Parliament is quite difficult- the sometimes freakish results that can emerge from a first past the post electoral system make the mathematics of a minority rather precarious. Nevertheless, support for the idea of a minority Parliament has risen in line with a growth in support for the Liberal Democrats. It may thus be that if the idea of a minority Parliament retains its lead in the polls, then the Liberal Democrats could see their vote track up further- which is what has often happened in the course of a general election campaign.

The 2010 general election contains a further wild card: it is the first time that the leaders of the three national parties represented in the House of Commons have taken party in a TV debate. Given that the Liberal Democrats, outside of a general election campaign, do not receive the same continuous coverage that Labour and the Conservatives do, the campaign, and with it the leaders debate, is a considerable opportunity for them. Provided that Nick Clegg can avoid any elephant traps, his simple participation as an equal of the other two will remind the electorate of the existence of the Liberal Democrats- and remind them also that the Liberal Democrats have been by far the least involved in the expenses scandal, and that they have always proposed constitutional reform at least in part to avoid the kind of problems that the scandal has revealed. This, together with the fact that it has been the Liberal Democrats who have predicted much of the course of the global economic crisis and many of the solutions, may help the party to put forward a clearer and more positive message. The fact that today's launch of the Liberal Democrat manifesto also saw the party leadership pointing out that painful increases in tax, combined with real government expenditure cuts were now necessary, provides another clear contrast with Labour and the Conservatives who do not publicly give the same candour to the voters.

The more the Conservatives argue that "We're all in this together", the more voters seem to think that the Tories still view the rest of us with the same patronising tone that we have heard before. The more Labour make promises that are clearly beyond their ability to deliver, the more the voters are reminded that Labour "mistakes" have been at least as common as any positive successes that they can point to.

So, the election reaches a crucial point. In any event the disenchantment and frustration of the voters is so evident that even the most blind backwoodsman MP must see it. The scale of the economic crisis and the need for reform will brook no denial. The question is whether or not the voters are prepared to come out and vote at all. If they do, are they prepared to vote against those who support the system that got us into this mess, or whether they will remember the positive practical and frankly honest message that the Liberal Democrats are putting forward.

When I return to the UK later next week I shall be going to campaign to elect as many Liberal Democrats as we can. I shall be doing so because I still believe in reform within the system: that the political road can still achieve something. For one thing is for certain: those who now view politics itself as the problem, who want to create a new anti-politics- which may not be democratic- are growing in number and may be growing in national support too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Orła Białego się na Ziemię - The curse of Katyn

The death of President Lech Kaczynski is hard to write about. It bears so many echoes of the great tragedies of twentieth century Polish history. President Kaczynski is the third leader of Poland to suffer sudden death: The first President of the Second Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated, and of course the wartime Prime Minister, General Wladyslaw Sikorski was killed in plane crash in 1943. It is the death of Sikorski, rumoured, but never proven to be at the instigation of Stalin, that brings the most terrible echoes to Polish ears.

Nor was President Kaczynski the only head of state to die on the plane in Smolensk. The last President-in-exile of the Second Republic, Ryszard Kaczorowksi, was also on the plane. When Lech Walesa was sworn in as the first President of the Third Republic, it was from President Kaczorowski that he took the insignia of office, while the insignia of the "Polish People's Republic", worn by General Jaruzelski was retired to a museum. The symbolism was profound- and deeply moving.

The loss of so many significant figures in a single plane crash is tragic. It is not, however, the "decapitation" that some journalists have described. Neither should one compare the Smolensk disaster with the Katyn massacre that the dignitaries were there to mourn. The Stalinist murder of twenty thousand Polish army officers and leaders of society was indeed an attempt by the Communists to decapitate Polish society. The loss of the Presidential plane, as shocking as it is, only decapitates the Law and Justice Party, of which the President was effectively the co-head with his twin brother Jaroslaw. The fact is that the President had insisted on a separate ceremony in order to avoid a ceremony a few days ago, when Prime Minister Tusk and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had taken centre stage- a function of a deep an bitter political split. Nevertheless the searing wound of Katyn creates, in the death of President, yet more victims. However, we may yet see a glimmer of hope, even though the circumstances are indeed tragic.

The loss of so many of the most intractable Polish Conservatives will change Poland, especially at a time when the power of the Roman Church in the country is under attack as never before. The occasionally paranoid fears of the Kaczynski brothers sometimes threatened the positive work that their obvious integrity had built. It is likely that the eclipse of the PiS will promote a more open Poland, both at home and in international relations. It is also a blow for David Cameron, since the PiS was his one significant ally in Europe.

The President pro tempore is the Marshal of the Sejm, Bronislaw Komoroski, who was hot favourite to beat President Kaczynski when the Presidential elections were due to take place later this year. His aristocratic demenour is a mask for an exceptionally shrewd operator- one who can build a far more significant position for Poland internationally than the defiantly backwoods demeanour of the late President.

One comment was " “The dark, dark symbolism of the whole situation — the weight that Katyn already carries in the Polish national memory — it’s all too much somehow… as though that place were truly cursed for us,”

Amen- and Never Again.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fighting the Election

There is a sharp difference between fighting the election as a candidate- as I did last time- and merely campaigning, or even observing. The process of being a candidate is all absorbing- and requires considerable concentration. The process of campaigning is a much less demanding role- though it too can be exhausting, as long hours and often repetitive jobs, like envelope stuffing, take their toll.

I wonder, though, whether as a candidate I might not have noticed the extraordinary turn that the 2010 election seems to be taking. The battle remains tight. The result of this election remains genuinely unclear.

From the perspective of the Liberal Democrats, however, this election is already shaping up to be one of the best results that I have ever known. Reports from across the country suggest that the party is gaining ground in seats that it is challenging in, and holding off the competition in seats where it is being challenged. The party has gained some momentum in the latest polls: and the outlook is good for a result which will be higher than that of 2005.

The expenses scandal has highlighted the Liberal Democrat case for wholesale constitutional reform. This is going down well on the doorsteps- with the clear recognition that the Lib Dems record on expenses is dramatically better than either Labour or the Conservatives. Even more powerfully there is the recognition that Vince Cable has called the economy right from the very start of the economic crisis- and that George Osborne has not. I have had several comments that suggest that the voters actively want a hung Parliament- with the comment in a pub- I paraphrase- "with that Nick Clegg and his thirty women, it might even be a "well-hung" Parliament".

The start of the campaign has got off to the predictable cat fight of Labour and the Conservatives, but somehow their heart doesn't seem to be in it: the action seems to be elsewhere. There is growing understanding that the result depends on how well the Liberal Democrats do, and where they do it. All the signs are good, so far, that the party is attracting positive support and good momentum.

Back to the grind of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

No longer waiting for Gordon

The prolonged agony of the non-election in the UK finally seems set to reach its culmination: Mr. Brown is going to the Palace to start the election campaign.

I think that the feeling across the country will be relief. This coy game of "guess the election date" at times has tipped into farce, and sets pretty low standards in the banality of much of our political life.

Sadly I fear the campaign is already set to be an exchange of simplistic half-truths, rather than the informed discussion about the future of the country that it ought to be. Politics has about the same following as the Highland League, so I guess we should not be surprised that the metaphors are all about the kind of loyalty that one gives a football team, rather than a debate about ideas and policies. It is depressing nonetheless to see how little we are able to understand the policy platforms on offer from Labour or the Conservatives: they have explained little or nothing about what they intend to do. In part that vagueness is a ploy to avoid attack, in part- and more seriously- they do not yet recognise the scale of the changes we must now begin.

George Osborne argues for tax cuts- on NI- when the cupboard is bare. If he tries to enact them, he will need to make deep cuts in areas- like the NHS- that he has pledged to defend. The idea that there is so much "inefficiency" that could allow painless cuts of billions is a simple fantasy: if it were that simple, it would have been done. After all every government promises such "savings"- and every government fails to deliver them. Alastair Darling can only offer stealth taxes and more of the same.

I contemplate the campaign with rather mixed feelings: hope that the country will indeed try to change the system that has trapped it in an endlessly repeating cycle of political mistakes; fear that the result will turn out as a disappointing step back from radical reform. The vast financial resources available to the Conservatives make me fear the worst. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats do enter the election season with a certain momentum- if either Labour of the Conservatives stutter, we may yet end up with more seats and more votes than ever- and the opportunity to help bring in the measures we know are needed to create a fairer, more open and more prosperous country.

Elections are fun, and at least we can fight on in hope.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Ruin in a Nation

"There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"- Adam Smith

Returning to the UK, I see the familiar streets subtly changed by the passing of the seasons. The electoral season is, of course almost with us- the general assumption being- hopefully- that Mr. Brown will go to the Queen to request a dissolution on Tuesday, for a general election on May 6th.
The past week has seem a slew of improving economic numbers: in particular a sharp recovery in manufacturing, exports and GDP growth. Some of these numbers are more in line with what expectations were in November, before a run of truly awful figures caused me- amongst others- to revise down their forecasts. The huge depreciation in the currency does finally seem to be having an effect. Nevertheless the economic outlook is uncertain and unstable at best. Even if we have indeed turned the corner on the last two years of economic recession, the impact of the gigantic increase in debt that we have taken on will be felt for decades. In the markets, UK debt is trading at levels that already imply a ratings downgrade, and the country will need to make cuts of tens of billions of Pounds in annual expenditure over the coming years in order to balance the books.
At the top of most politicians lists will be axing infrastructure projects- such as HS2- which get the books to balance in the short term, but whose absence which will lead to the further erosion of British competitiveness in the long term. When it is quicker to get from Warsaw to, say, Frankfurt by high speed train than from Leeds, then Warsaw will be a more attractive investment destination.
What the crisis may have revealed, though, is not just the weakness of the economic infrastructure of the UK, but the weakness of its political infrastructure. There was much discussion of the decline of British manufacturing and the rise of the City. Generally both trends were welcomed by the political leaders. However it is when we examine the astonishing centralisation of political power in the UK, that we can see inefficiency and bottlenecks. The right of the Prime Minister to call an election at a time that suits him is something that is anti-democratic, yet I wonder whether David Cameron- still less Gordon Brown- is prepared to give it up? The rights and the perquisites of the Royal prerogative that have devolved onto the Prime Minister are handy tools once one is in office- no matter how angry one might have been about them when in opposition. It is only the Liberal Democrats who have argued consistently and as a matter of manifesto commitment for their total abolition, as part of a full programme of constitutional reform.
As we contemplated the blooming of rosettes and Garden Posters over the next few weeks, I suspect that an inconclusive election may finally move the political focus onto the major problems of our constitution.
Like the spring this year, and the election season itself, it seems long overdue.