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Showing posts from May, 2010

Masu takes a back seat

In Estonia they are so familiar with the economic crisis, they have given it a nick-name: " Masu ", which comes from Majandus Krisis - Economic Crisis. Headlines are full of the latest doings of this wayward creature: the latest fall in retail sales, the steady slowing of lending, the gradual deceleration of the economy. The Masu is developing its own personality: rather like a bear, damaging and clumsy though, rather than rapacious. Today, however, the Masu is off the front pages and there is some better economic news: Estonia has joined the OECD , the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. "So what?" many will ask, not knowing what the OECD actually is. The -now thirty-five member- body is essentially the club of wealthy and democratic states, committed to open government and open economies. For Estonia to be accepted as a member reflects a vote of confidence in the stability and prospects for the country. It also promotes them into a fairly exc

More in Anger than in Sorrow

I have known David Laws vaguely for several years. He has total integrity. He gave up a burgeoning career in finance because he had "already made enough money". For several years he worked for essentially no money to help craft a set of economically coherent policies for the Liberal Democrats. He has a forensic intelligence- a deeply impressive understanding of economic and financial context. He is a genuine star in a field where mediocrities are more usually the norm. In the first few days of the new coalition he was already establishing himself as a key figure at the very heart of government, and was becoming not just respected but popular on both sides of the government. David has always been intensely private about himself. Those who knew him best have generally assumed that he was gay, but if he chose not to discuss his private life then that was entirely his choice. To see the obvious personal distress that he is in as the result of the attacks against him in the press

The strange death of the Labour Party

So many things going on in the markets... and even as the North Korean regime tries to start a war, the Spanish banks fall to pieces, the Greek economy falls into smaller pieces, yet still the death throes of the Labour Party attract my attention. Oooo... Please, please: choose a Miliband, no! I so want the Labour Party dead. These are identikit professional politicians - bloodless, passionless and unprincipled, they represent why the Labour Party lost its soul the day they chose Tony Blair as its "leader". That discount Caudillo trampled any basic principle that the Socialist Party ever had (although as a fairly fierce anti-Socialist, I can't say he was exactly wrong). Now Labour want to choose either the clumsy Tweedledee of thoughtless me too-ism or the doltish Tweedledum of thoughtless opportunism. They think that the Coalition will eventually fold and that then they can sweep in triumph back to the power from which they have been temporarily excluded... Er

Tory Refuseniks emerge from the rubble

It does not take any particular genius to notice that the Conservatives are a fairly disparate and occasionally divided party. The battles of the "Nasty Party" ( tm . our new Home Secretary), were mostly with each other, not with the other parties, which is why their electoral record became so poor. The Cameroons were, and are, a minority that is forced to do deals within a shifting pattern of allegiances. Nothing too unusual there: most parties are the same in that sense. What made the Conservatives divisions so painful was the incredible vehemence with which different sides held their views. Instead of the rather senior common room atmosphere of party debates amongst the Liberal Democrats, the Tories like to conduct their debates like a fight in the playground: no quarter is given. Any change in approach is examined for signs of weakness- and compromise by one's own side is regarded as the blackest betrayal. The Conservative debate on Europe, for example, degenerated i

"A huge ******"

What kind of a prat calls his own brother "a huge talent"? Probably the same kind of guy whose every single social grace is undermined by that most poisonous of things: ambition. David Miliband and his brother Edward are now apparently locked in a struggle for the soul of the "Labour movement". Identikit blandness that bares a strange likeness to those other Labour political siblings: Douglas and Wendy Alexander. It is not a struggle based on vision, or principles, or ideology: it is simple, naked political ambition. Yet onto this tabula rasa we are invited to project our deepest wishes for the future of the Labour Party, and by implication the future of the Left in Britain. I am not sure that the left has actually got a future. Yes I know, many of the most obdurate Socialists will laugh, they believe, as did David Cameron, that the mistakes of their political enemies will ultimately deliver them power upon the next swing of the political pendulum. Yet, as Mr. Ca

Founding the Tallinnban

An economically liberal friend of mine whose politics nevertheless tend to haver between the Conservatives and the SNP contacts me from an overseas trip. He says that he fears that the coalition will simply continue the economic policies of Gordon Brown. Although I point out that those policies can not be sustained anyway, he remains nervous. In fact I have little doubt that the budget now announced for June 22 will show some very nasty red ink indeed. The question will be how to create a policy response that walks the line between fiscal responsibility and economic recovery. Most importantly of all, there is the question of the essential investment in public infrastructure such as Crossrail and HS-2. Are these projects to be delayed or even sacrificed because we still do not have a coherent approach to social welfare? The fiscal drag created by Gordon Brown- i.e.the administration cost of collecting taxation on the one hand, and paying out benefits such as child credits on the othe

Considering the virtues of a coalition with Norman Tebbit

The Rt Hon. The Lord Tebbit of Chingford C.H., a.k.a. the Chingford Strangler, or the "semi house-trained polecat" of Michael Foot's imagination, has been- I think it fair to say- slow to warm to the virtues of coalition. Nevertheless, even he is now prepared to reconsider some of his previous views. He is for the moment amongst the majority in the Conservatives who are, if only pragmatically, prepared to support the idea. There are, however, still a fair number of Conservatives who are- shall we say- ambivalent. I would be lying if I said that it was all was sweetness and light amongst the Liberal Democrats. There are a number of people who could not support the Conservatives for any reason or at any price: several of them have left the party. There are a number of people who did not understand that the Liberal Democrats meant what they said about how the virtues of coalition and partnership in government could make a transformation to our political system. Equally, a

Liberal Democrats face the challenge of government

It has been an interesting few days since Mr. Cameron made his first offer of a coalition to the Liberal Democrats. Now the coalition agreement is published and it is a thoughtful and quite well crafted document . Many will be unhappy that the Liberal Democrats have gone into coalition with the Conservatives, but to my mind there was neither the numbers nor the will for Labour to even come to the table. In the end we will have to place a degree of trust in Mr. Cameron's word: but it is trust which rests on the knowledge that any betrayal of the agreement would be seen as such and either side may be punished if they fail to follow through on their commitments. The agreement includes a commitment to a fixed Parliament: so the next general election date should be already set for the first Thursday of May 2015: personally I would prefer an October electoral timetable, but May it will now have to be. It includes provisions for a referendum on AV for the House of Commons and to address

And the winner is...

The 2010 general election has certainly had its twists and turns, culminating in a cliffhanger result. Now, however, it is clear what the shape of the new government will be: a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. It is not going to be an easy ride. However, the impact of Liberal Democrat voices around the cabinet table could well be profound. In any event, the very nature of a coalition will mean a more open kind of politics. There is also the matter of electoral reform: a referendum has been conceded by the Conservatives as part of the government programme. There is now an agreed programme on education - where in truth the parties' policies were not that different. It is the economy that is now the most important focus, and with Vince Cable taking a senior role, we can at least hope for some coherence and forward thinking here. The two exhausted negotiating teams should be congratulated on coming out with a detailed programme. Nick Clegg should be congratulated on sticking f

Confrontation and Coalition

The vituperation falling upon the Liberal Democrats from the Conservative press is not a pretty sight. The people have spoken, and now it is up to the politicians that they have elected to behave responsibly and calmly in order to create a government that will serve out the Parliament and establish a stable framework for the decisions that must now be taken to strengthen our economy and our politics. The Conservatives have offered a coalition beyond a confidence and supply agreement, and that is -at least on the surface- a handsome gesture. Labour have removed their leader, knowing that the British public would not tolerate his return to office. However the mathematics of the new Parliament does not permit Labour to form anything but an unstable and fractious multi-party coalition. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have more in common in their approach to the economy too. Nevertheless, certain figures within the Liberal Democrats, such as Sir Menzies Campbell and Baroness Wil

Liberal Democrats: the red lines with the Conservatives

I was only campaigning for the General Election during the last week, but staying up for nearly thirty hours on election day left me slightly groggy. Meanwhile after the utter exhaustion of months of campaigning- David Cameron apparently solidly for the last two days- our political leaders have been plunged into a process that requires acute political judgement. David Laws looks like he has lost about 15 kilos- I suspect that none of the figures now being forced to discuss the formation of the next government are in particularly great shape. Nevertheless the Liberal Democrats have a particular responsibility. Even though the result looks disappointing compared to the polls during the campaign, it still led to many thousands more people voting Liberal Democrat compared to 2005. The same number of votes, differently distributed could have given 10 more seats or 10 less- the electoral system does not reflect the democratic will: it is a lottery. It must be changed. The question is whethe


A long night at the count for Gordon, where Malcolm Bruce was able to hold his seat in fine style: a tribute to a fine local MP. Equally Sir Robert Smith held West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine in the face of a determined challenge. However, across the country, though the people may have spoken, what they are saying has been ignored. The Liberal Democrats won many thousand more votes than last time, but we must content ourselves with a smaller Parliamentary representation. The defence of the First Past the Post electoral system is that is is supposed to deliver more stable governments, albeit at the expense of the democratic will. Now, it is difficult to establish what should happen. The fact is that the country must now face considerable uncertainty in the face of such a distorted result. The difference between the Liberal Democrats holding 55 seats and holding more than 70 seats is a bare few hundred votes. This makes a farce of our democracy. Without electoral reform, Britain can

Early Morning

Arisen early in order to deliver Good Morning leaflets across the constituency. With a possible pause for a famed Lib Dem Bacon Roll around 11 (and a snooze in the late afternoon) I guess it will be solid all the way through until the count tonight. I will be in the Aberdeen Conference Centre, which is also in the constituency, acting as a polling agent. So I hope to see, not merely the re-election of Malcolm Bruce and Sir Robert Smith, but also the election of many new Liberal Democrat MPs too. It has been a long campaign- after all it really began when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister- Yet this may prove to be not the culmination of such a long period, but the beginning of a new era of British politics. The Russians have an expression: "we hoped for the best, but it turned out like always". For the Liberal Democrats and the Liberals before that has been the story of successive elections. This time the campaign has been different: the success of Nick Clegg has done more t

The election of 2010

No one knows what will happen in the general election tomorrow- not the pollsters, not the politicians, and probably not the voters. There is an opportunity to make a radical change in the way our country is run. There is an opportunity to turn away from the destructive political culture, rooted in the vested interests of the two party system. There is an opportunity to create a more open political system which can look more widely for talent to tackle the problems that we face- experts with real experience well beyond the political bubble. The question is will the British people make the leap and seize the opportunity. They could turn to David Cameron- a product of the system to his finger tips. They could stick with Gordon Brown- a Prime Minister with a list of failed polices that is now long indeed. The political class is in confusion. It is a confusion caused by the Liberal Democrats. There is something new on offer: and it is the wisdom of Liberal economics rooted in the politics

The definition of Pyrrhic

As the campaign enters its last hours we continue to canvass and leaflet on the ground, slightly oblivious to the air war going on in the media. At the end of each day we have returned home late and absorbed the impact of such news as there is. The Tory press are in overdrive: spinning so wildly for their chosen party that it is almost comic. The latest earth shattering news is that Simon Cowell has- apparently- endorsed the Conservatives. Hmm ... So a perma -tanned multi-millionaire who has built his rather questionable reputation on the most tawdry and manipulative television supports the Tories. I am sure a nation will mourn. In fact the press has practically become a joke- quite often they no longer even bother with facts. Their stock is not only misinformation- the spreading of half-truths and distortions- but disinformation- complete fabrication. I was once told that politicians complaining about the press is like the rest of us complaining about the weather- I suppose it is tr

Waiting for the Earthquake

In recent weeks a serious of Earth tremors in California have reminded people there that the state is still waiting for "the Big One"- a move on a major fault line, like the famed San Andreas fault, that would cause a once-in-a-century massive Earthquake. It was 1906 when the last major 'quake took place, causing the near-destruction of the City of San Francisco, and such 'quakes have historically taken place roughly once every 90 years: after 104 years we are still waiting, and the underground pressures are building up to ever higher levels. When the fault ruptures, the size of the earthquake could indeed be a real monster. Nor is California alone. In Japan, the roughly 60 year cycle of major quakes in the Tokyo bay area has also been broken: the last 'quake was the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which also caused massive destruction to the Japanese capital. Istanbul is also waiting for an overdue earthquake. The point is that these events could take place t

Alex Salmond: pantomime villain

In the four-seasons-in-one-day weather of the Aberdeenshire coast I get into the rhythm of the election campaign. The mechanics of leafleting, avoiding the problems that dogs and tight letter boxes may bring. My mind wanders as the repetition of gate opening, walking to the door with folded leaflet ready, posting and returning builds up. First tens, then twenties, odds, evens, side streets, all build up into a pattern. Then walk one, walk two, walk three; the slight tiredness of being in the open air, the wind, the sun, the occasional spits and spots of rain. Thus leafleting. With canvassing, the organisation of the clipboard, the check of the name, the confident walk to the door- more external than internal- the knock on the door, of the ringing of the bell. "I'm calling on behalf"... "can we rely on your support this time"... "Do you think?" "Thank you for your time". Blue doors, red doors, different men, different women, and the responses