Monday, May 22, 2006


Vive le difference

I heard on the radio this morning that Dave wants to make people happier (clue: human rights help with this!)

I wonder whether he's been reading Lord Layard's book?

Cameron thinks we should focus less on our GDP and more on our GWB: apparently this means our
general well-being
and not our
George W. Bush
I understand that this is the main difference between New Labour and the New Tories these days.

Gettin' taggy with it:
, ,.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Get your retaliation in first

I keep hearing mumbles about an "early general election" from all sorts of unlikely people, including columnists, bloggers of all political persuasions, and even some of our elected representatives - it's a refrain that seems to be prominent in strategic thinking in both the Lib Dem and Tory parties at the moment.

I'm wondering if it all stems from this?
"David Cameron today told Scottish Conservatives there was an "urgent" need for Tories to back his Built to Last values document as he warned of a possible early general election once Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair."
I'm wondering whether it was all a bit of spin to put the wind up reticent Tories, or whether Dave really does know something we don't...


Post-election round-up

According to the BBC's headline results, the second-biggest winner in this month's local elections were no-one - 66 councils are now in no overall control, up 6 from before the poll. By and large, this is good news for the Liberal Democrats - despite our only gaining one council overall*, Labour's collapse across the country is likely to mean that we now have representatives on significantly more council executives.

This is a round-up of the councils in No Overall Control for which I have been able to find out details:

(* although, see West Lindsey later)

In the first of many new Lib Dem/Tory coalitions, Burnley has a new executive and a new Lib Dem council leader, Gordon Birtwistle.

(Includes 1 Con defection to Ind)

Calderdale Council has been the source of some controversy since the election, with the Tories preferring to form a coalition with Labour rather than negotiate with the Lib Dems. Former Lib Dem leader Michael Taylor said:
"You might think you have got one over on the Lib Dems but you have given us the best political opportunity we have ever had in Calderdale."
He may well be right: I can't see many traditional Labour supporters being happy about propping up a Tory administration that's on the slide, or for that matter Tory supporters being happy having to rely on the votes of Labour councillors - one Tory councillor has already resigned the whip because of the deal.

Labour was never going to hold on to this one having lost half of its seats, and it looks likely that Keith Moffitt will become leader of a new Lib Dem/Tory coalition. Moffitt initially suggested a three-way power share but was rebuffed by the Tories, so Labour will be excluded from decision-making in Camden for the first time in 35 years.

Cheltenham, sadly, has reverted to Conservative minority control after the People Against Bureaucracy party split 3-2 to back an all-Tory executive.

(Includes 2 Lib defections to Hull Ind)

It had initially looked like Labour would cling on to power in Hull as the two remaining Liberals defected to the Hull Independents group and backed a Labour cabinet - but with the Lib Dems attracting the support of the Tories and an unaligned independent Councillor, the vote at full council was set to tied at 29 apiece.

Bizarrely, former leader Coun. Inglis (who is suspended from the Labour group pending a criminal investigation) then voted against his former colleagues to put the Lib Dems back in to power. You couldn't make it up.

May 4th was a shock result for Islington Lib Dems, but having fortunately retained exactly half of the seats and the Lord Mayorship, they were able to retain control using the mayor's casting vote despite the one Green councillor voting with the Labour group.

Councillor James Kempton will become the new council leader after group leader Steve Hitchins lost his seat. Councillor Kempton will have two years before the next council elections in 2008 to convince the electorate that the Lib Dems deserve an outright majority.

Lewisham will continue to be run by Labour despite them losing their majority, as they have retained the elected mayorship.

The Tories were successful in gaining a third seat, but bizarrely axed their group leader shortly afterwards (something that they have in common with Barnet...)

Oxford's new council leader is Liberal Democrat John Goddard: the Lib Dems have 7 of the 10 available executive positions, including our very own Lib Dem blogger Stephen Tall.

Southwark Lib Dems and Conservatives have formalised their current electoral pact into a power-sharing coalition.

St. Helens will now be run by a Lib Dem/Tory coalition with a majority of one, with Lib Dem Brian Spencer as the new council leader. This is the first time in 70 years that a party other than Labour has run St. Helens.

(Includes LD by-election gain from Ind)

Saving the best till last: West Lindsey Council in Lincolnshire was deadlocked after the Lib Dems gained two seats earlier this month, but a by-election victory last week in a seat previously held by an independent put them over the top.

Still unknown are the fates of these newly-deadlocked councils:

Lab losses:
Barrow-In-Furness, Brent (where we became the largest party from third place), Bury, Derby, Hounslow, Merton, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Plymouth, Redditch, Stoke-On-Trent, Warrington.

Con losses
Gosport, Harrogate.

LD losses:
Milton Keynes

plus of course any NOC held councils that have changed leaders - if anyone hears about what's going on in these councils, give me a shout and I will put them in the next round-up!

Friday, May 19, 2006


Greener than Thou

Following today's announcement of Chris Huhne's environmental tax plan The Green Switch, I have to say that it is both worth the wait and delivers all of his promises from the leadership campaign.

The £2,000 Vehicle Excise Duty for Chelsea Tractors Policy has caught the eye of the press - the BBC picked it up almost straight away, and I imagine most of tomorrow's broadsheets will carry it - the Grauniad reports here.

Better still, the Friends of the Earth put out a friendly press release within hours of the announcement, stating: -
"Greening the Budget is crucial if the UK is to reap the economic benefits of responding early and decisively to climate change. After an encouraging start Gordon Brown has gone cold on the green tax agenda. The Liberal Democrats appear to have more fully grasped the potential benefits of green taxation for the economy and the environment."
With any luck, this should follow our announcement into some of tomorrow's papers. I suspect that there might be something of a backlash over this - funny as it is:
"Green taxes can help change behaviour in a way that hugging a husky cannot. Tory hot air won't help cool the climate."
One wonders how our partners in Cross-Pary Approach to Climate Change will react...

Back to the policy: The Green Switch delivers everything you want from a policy announcement - it's innovative, it's ethically sound, and it's a vote-winner. Sadly, the local elections came too soon for it, but if anything it's an indication of how much of a handicap Ming and the party had for these elections, having somewhat perilously changed horses mid-stream. If this is an indication of the sort of quality we're going to be getting in the Campbell era, then I remain optimistic that we can win over the electorate in time for the next election.

I'm particularly pleased by Huhne's suggestion to reform the way we implement the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a programme that has come in for a fair amount of criticism recently. I'm a firm believer in free-market environmental programmes like carbon trading, but the EUETS has an number of shortcomings, not least the disappointingly high level of the overall emissions cap and the tendency of firms to pass carbon costs on to their customers - the latter is particularly disappointing behaviour, given that these firms were given a large portion of their allocations for free! The EU needs to correct this topsy-turvy situation, not only making companies pay for more of their carbon but stamping out anti-competitive price-gouging. I'm glad to see Huhne is taking a strong lead on this.

I'd like to elaborate on this point, as this is something I've been mulling over for a while. I think that a reformed, properly-run EUETS could be expanded to cover non-EU countries, allowing eventually for a global emissions trading structure. The way to incentivise this would be in exactly the same way that membership of the EU itself is incentivised - by having specific external "green" tariffs and internal market liberalisation. (Yes, that is Gladstone turning over in his grave that you can hear.)

I suggest this, because it ties in with a topic to which countless Lib Dem blogosphere column inches have been devoted since the local elections, and that is the apparent rise of the Green Party at our expense. I believe that this is the defining issue that sets us apart from the Greens - this issue of trade and globalisation. Green opposition to globalisation verges on the fanatical (see mad ranting here) but exposes one of the core contradictions in Green Party philosophy - the rejection of truly global solutions to solve a global problem.

Unilateral green action on the scale being suggested would do little besides dismantling the British economy - and as we retreated back into the Stone Age, we would watch helplessly as the Americans continued to drive cars the size of houses and the Chinese built more coal-fired power stations.

What we need to solve the CO2 problem is an emissions trading scheme with everyone on board - a World Carbon Bank if you like. The problem with efforts thus far is that they have failed to get key players like the Americans signed up. It's easy (and a cop-out) to blame Bush for this, but it's worth bearing in mind that the US Senate voted against Kyoto by 95 votes to nothing - this is highly unlikely to change under a different administration!

The problems that the Americans had with Kyoto were that it did not include developing nations and that, while it had limited emissions trading provisions, it was not free-market enough - a World Carbon Bank has the potential to solve both of these problems. Expanding the EUETS could provide the first tentative steps towards this goal - and controversial as it may seem, I would be much happier if Wall Street bankers were getting rich selling carbon emissions than oil shares!

I mention all this in the hope linking the environment and trade (a traditional Liberal hot topic) can become one of the Big Ideas that help to sustain our party in this new century. Alex Wilcock has already suggested linking the environment and health, which has the potential to be a Big Idea - Huhne's environmental tax plans certainly feel like Big Idea territory as well.

Were I writing the brochure tomorrow, this is how I'd be tempted to sum it all up:
Doesn't sound too bad to me!

Now go and read Alex's post, if you haven't already.

Edit: And check out Joe Otten's analysis of the announcement, too.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Sun in agreeing with Lib Dem policy shocker

Today's "Sun Says" reports on the pensions agreement between Blair and Brown (emphasis mine) : -
"TONY Blair and Gordon Brown are fiddling while Rome burns. Restoring the link between pensions and pay rises is right. But it will make only a minor improvement to a pensioner’s income. And to fund it, we will have to work two or even three years longer before we can retire. That’s seven years after teachers, police and NHS staff retire on their superb public sector pensions.

This is the crux of the problem — but Labour will not tackle it and start a war with the unions.

It’s a battle David Cameron must be ready for if he’s to become PM."
It's an odd feeling to find myself in agreement with the Currant Bun - on the retirement age issue, too - and one that I'm sure will cost me some sleep tonight. Nevertheless, any sound thoughts on policy are welcome, even if they do come between brainstorming sessions to come up with new puns on Wayne Rooney's name.
This is not the first fiscal policy that New Labour have shamelessly cribbed from the Lib Dem policy book - first there was the independence of the Bank of England, and then the 1p tax rise to pay for the health service. Now there appears to be fresh a consensus on a policy that bears an eerie resemlance to our 2005 manifesto commitment: -
"Millions of elderly people are failing to receive the pensions they’ve earned – and deserve and need – because of demeaning and unworkable means tests. Liberal Democrats will simplify the system, immediately guaranteeing a basic pension at 75 of at least £109.45 per week, with future increases linked to earnings. That’s over £100 a month more at 75 for every single pensioner. Every pensioner couple over 75 will receive at least £167.05 per week state pension – over £140 a month more than at present. This will abolish the need for means tests altogether for a million people."

Liberal Democrat 2005 Election Manifesto
- albeit a watered-down version that will not take effect until 2012.

The trick seems to be to get someone to propose it in an independent report and wait for Government ministers to leap onto the bandwagon - now only if you could get someone to propose proportional representation in one of those...

Never let Tony or Gordon sit next to you at an exam, I say.

Acknowledgement due: Guido, without whom I wouldn't know whether the Sun had endorsed Jade Goody for Prime Minister.

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