Thursday, November 22, 2007


On blue-shirted lackwits

Alix Mortimer has written an insightful (and hilarious) article about how people see our tax policy - I suggest you all read it:

IHT is of course a tax specifically invented to annoy the People’s Republic of Mortimer, whether the Head of State is being forced hatefully to draw up calculations for people to avoid it or voluntarily reading silly articles about what an unearthly evil it is. It’s a tax on accumulated wealth which affects anything up to forty-eight people, of whom forty live inside the M25 and one is the Duke of Westminster*, so for twat-in-a-blue-shirt to be allowed to perpetuate the myth that it’s some sort of lodestone for the economic liberty of The People is risibly London-focused, and such an unselfconsciously Thatcherite piece of upper-middle-class bleating as to be little short of sick. (Incidentally, why would you give a toss about IHT as a supposedly selfish apolitical young person unless you are actually planning to murder your parents? Damned suspicious, in my opinion.)

Full article here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Nick Clegg wins third debate

Well I would say that wouldn't I! ;-)

Seriously though, delighted with my guy's performance tonight. A great answer on immigration, owned his podium, and refused to be bullied by Paxman. He seems to have found his form just at the right time - plenty of cheers and nodding heads here at Clegg Towers!

Chris Huhne was steady and forthright - I'm pleased that we've moved on from the 'Calamity' dossier and that he's issued a full apology. I thought that his responses to the "one word answer" questions were testing the patience of his audience though!

Overall, a good night for the Liberal Democrats and a good night for Clegg. Cheers!


This is the sort of thing we should have had from the beginning!

James Graham has written a superb account of the bloggers' panel with Nick Clegg which has just reminded me of all the reasons I'm voting for him. It should be required reading for all floating voters!

Now why can't we see that on the telly? Well, Clegg and Huhne are on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman tomorrow night (eek) so maybe we still might...

Monday, November 19, 2007


Take these anonymous blogs down NOW


I'm not going to give them the oxygen of publicity by linking to them, but whoever has been posting anonymous attack blogs on Huhne under the pseudonym "Chris Almighty" - stop it, and stop it NOW.

Liberal Democrats Do Not Do That Sort Of Thing.

That is all.


The road not taken

I often find myself wondering in politics what my life would be like if I'd been brought up in a strongly Labour or Tory household. I've been a Liberal Democrat ever since I was able to vote. I was admittedly delighted when Labour annihilated the Tories in 1997 - however my views of Labour (and socialism) have taken a long road away from both since then.

But I have to accept that my upbringing and social class make me a prime candidate to become a Liberal Democrat. The house I grew up in happens to be in the Mosaic demographic that scored highest for the Liberal Democrats in 2005 - that's top out of 60. My mum delivers leaflets for the party, my dad admits to having been a fan of the SDP in the 1980s - although I am by far the most politically active in my family.

But under different circumstances could I have joined the Tories? Labour? The Greens? UKIP? Respect? The Legalise Cannabis Alliance?

I've recently been reading an excellent book by American political psychologist Drew Westen called The Politicial Brain. The premise of the book is that the idea that people make political decisions on the basis of a sober analysis of maximum personal utility is dead wrong - that people actually carry around with them a much simpler emotional model of political reality, and base the vast majority of their decisions on that.

I'm very aware, then, that a lot of arguments that people give for a particular side of an argument are post-rationalisation, based on adopting the best argument from their own side, or maximising the importance of some facts and minimising others, or simply refusing to accept the motives of those who would argue the contrary.

That feeling has been particularly acute during this leadership contest. I'm a Sheffield Liberal Democrat. I was brought up in Sheffield. I worked on Nick Clegg's election campaign in 2005. I know and like Nick Clegg; I've never met Chris Huhne. I feel passionately that Nick Clegg is the right man for the job of leading this party - but would I feel different if I did my politics in Eastleigh? And just how much of my view is made up of my natural bias?

Doubts are a difficult thing to admit to in politics, but they are intrinsic to its fabric. I like to think of myself as a rational person. I like to think (and Westen's book agrees) that it make sense for us to look first for emotional literacy in a potential leader, something that Nick has in bucketloads. I like to think that it makes sense to put values before policy, something that Nick has tried to do in this leadership campaign. But how much of my opinions here are post-rationalisation? Perhaps I will have to wait until the next leadership contest to find out - here's hoping that that's a long time off yet!

I'm also feeling very odd about having some people I genuinely like and respect as political opponents, albeit temporarily. Jock Coats and Paul Walter are plumping for Huhne; I suspect James Graham and Alex Wilcock are heading that way. The temptation to feel less of them is at times disturbingly compelling; I sincerely hope that I resist it and come out of this election with my capacity to respect personal choice intact!

So, here's to the future. Let's hope that on December 17th, whoever wins, we are a party again. I want us to get back to railing against the real enemy: the massed forces of NewToryLabour. Let's hope that before long we are sat in a by-election war room somewhere in some NuLab or Tory heartland, stuffing envelopes, eating pizza, telling bad jokes, and generally being the grease that oils the wheel of the great campaign that will finally bring the cosy consensus to it's knees.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Who's got the 'mo'?

I see that The Observer today is running a story saying that Chris Huhne is 'closing' in the Lib Dem leadership race. This is based on the fact that "several of the party's MPs privately believe" that the two are running neck-and-neck.

Big Mo. Or, you know, not.
Well let me tell you, if everything I believed came true then for a start there'd be no such thing as I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here.

What I do know is that 37 MPs are supporting Nick Clegg versus 11 for Huhne. Over 1500 supporters have declared for the Clegg campaign, versus just over 1000 for Huhne. That includes around 300 Lib Dem Councillors for Clegg but closer to 200 for Huhne. And the Clegg Facebook groups are running at about twice the number of total members compared to the Huhne ones.

And this was all before Radio 4's The World at One conducted a survey of 100 local Lib Dem party chairs today. The scores on the doors: Clegg 43, Huhne 30.

The Observer article today will have cheered the Huhne campaign following sister paper The Guardian's endorsement of Clegg yesterday, but it appears to be based on little more than blind faith. Huhne does have more MSPs supporting him - maybe that's what they meant?

If you ask me though, Huhne's team know they are behind and are trying absolutely everything they can to pull a rabbit out of their hat - hence the disastrous 'Calamity Clegg' briefing.


Huhne's negative chickens come home to roost

Oh dear - I've just watched the second leadership debate on The Politics Show where Chris Huhne was utterly blindsided by a very nasty briefing document written by his campaign office entitled 'Calamity Clegg'.

What followed was a new low in leadership campaign politics as Huhne first denied knowing anything about the memo - and then proceeded to parrot all the attacks on Clegg contained within it! Several times he even used the word "flip-flop" - are we borrowing from George W Bush's campaign playbook now?

It was a most unedifying spectacle as Huhne recited the attacks by rote - including yet again his discredited line on school vouchers - as both the interviewer and Clegg were unable to stop him talking despite dozens of attempted interventions.

Clegg's response when he finally got to open his mouth was "this saddens me". He went on to chastise Huhne for attempting to manufacture synthetic differences between the two of them, including school vouchers, health insurance and Trident.

I have studiously avoided attacking either of the candidates thus far in this leadership election - but this makes me absolutely furious. I feel duty bound to warn the Huhne team that if they keep on dragging this campaign into an unsightly punch-up I will rapidly lose my sense of humour.

It's in their best interest too - I don't think any floating voters watching that just now will have been at all impressed by Huhne's display. If he wants Nick Clegg to come across as the more human, reasonable, and empathetic of the two he's going the right way about it!

Update: The World At One debate on Radio 4 wasn't much better: Huhne claimed that he'd apologised for the title of the briefing (if he has I didn't hear it), but still couldn't help himself from going on the offensive. I think the debate was epitomised by an exchange right at the end. While Clegg refused to be drawn into painting his comments on the Tories' advances on the environmental agenda as a criticism of Huhne, Huhne intervened with a poll saying we were still the most trusted party on the envionment and "we couldn't say that about Home Affairs, could we Nick?"

Oh dear.

Friday, November 16, 2007



I've deliberately written this without looking at any of the other blog comments, so apologies if I end up repeating anything!

I've just finished watching the Question Time leadership debate. I have mixed feelings about it - Nick got off to a very shaky start under some heavily personal questioning, while Chris was confidently plugging away and seemed to be enjoy it more.

Then it all changed after the half-hour mark - Nick gave a superbly passionate answer talking about his anger at the 14 year difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest wards in Sheffield. From then on, he seemed to "switch on" - talking with passion and conviction, giving human examples, and generally had people in the audience nodding along.

I ended up coming away with the impression that Nick shaded it - as I'm told did the journalists on Question Time Extra, although I haven't yet managed to watch it myself! That said, Chris Huhne is doing very well and certainly improved on his performance a year and a half ago. He is certainly exceeding many people's expectations at the moment.

I'm not really sure though whether this debate will have influenced people one way or another - partly because it was very even and there were bits for supporters of both candidates to pick out. We shall see though.

One thing that's made this leadership election so nerve-wracking so far is that members are hard to pin down in any national polling. Not only does no-one know how close it is, no-one even knows who's in the lead!

I suppose we will find out in a month's time...

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Davey and Kramer on the railways

Thanks to Stephen Tall of Lib Dem Voice for pointing out this excellent piece from Channel 4’s Political Slot last night. For those of us that don't often turn on a TV, it's nice to be able to watch retrospectively what our MPs have been saying to the electorate!

In this piece, Ed Davey and Susan Kramer discuss the an issue close to my heart - the railways.

Railways for me are an opportunity to bring this country closer together. Advances in railway technology have come thick and fast - just look at Shanghai's Transrapid Maglev system. By contrast, our railways are stuck in the past, having had almost no investment for a century.

Imagine for a minute the economic benefits if you could get from London to Birmingham in half an hour, or Edinburgh to Glasgow in 15 minutes, as suggested in the UK Ultraspeed proposal.

Davey and Kramer are not going that far yet - but they are at least proposing a way to get more investment into the railways, which is a welcome start.

Here is the video:


Basher on 4

I don't often feel like praising David Davis, but credit where credit's due - he's just given an excellent interview on the Today Programme on why he is opposing Labour's plan to double detention without trial to 56 days. So forceful was he that he barely allowed the interviewer - John Humphrys of all people - to get a word in edgeways!

It helps, of course, when you have the facts on your side. He's quite right that the Government already have powers to declare a state of emergency if they want to question people for longer than 28 days - and if they want to do that, it better bloody well be an emergency! And as to the Government's motives? Simple Sailor West's remarkable turnaround from
"I still need to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be convinced what is the best way of doing that."
"I am quite clear that the greater complexities of terrorist plots will mean that we will need the power to detain certain individuals for more than 28 days."
after doing no more than a brief chinwag with Gordon offers a clue. Davis again is on the money - West is an undoubted expert in this field, so what evidence could Brown possibly have provided that he didn't know already? Instead this illustrates precisely what we all suspected - that the motives for this proposed extension are entirely political.

As I say, I don't often praise Davis but whatever you think of his politics, his calibre as a debater is undoubted - and on this and the ID cards issue I often find myself glad that he's on our side.


Getting inspired

Phew. As you can probably tell, it's been a long day today. The Clegg campaign in Sheffield has gone from having too little to do... to drowning under a mountain of paper. It's all feeling very by-electiony.

That said, I still can't say I'm feeling very inspired by this leadership campaign. Maybe that's the nature of leadership campaigns. Maybe it's because I made up my mind early. Or maybe it's because I've been watching The West Wing again from the start - real politics just isn't as poetic, goshdarnit!

It's at least preferable to the long periods of stultifying boredom punctuated by brief bursts of humiliating scandal that was the last leadership election. And I'm told by my elders and betters that absolutely no-one got excited about the 1999 campaign.

Maybe the Question Time debate tomorrow will inspire me. The stakes are high at least - if it's close, I have a feeling it could be the deciding factor in this election. I'm pretty nervous to be honest - I feel like anything can happen, and I just hope Nick turns up and charms everyone like we know he's capable of!

Anyway, off to bed...

Monday, November 12, 2007


Leo McKinstry is a coward

Leo McKinstry is a coward. I say this because he seems unable to stomach the comment I posted on this story of his - it was conveniently lost in comment limbo.

I wrote:

Oh no! One of those gay egghead atheist immigrant-loving abortionist Communists!

It's surely only a matter of time before he's caught eating good Christian babies - I say we dispense with due process and string him up in Central Lobby without delay.

Thankyou Mr. McKinstry for bringing American talk radio mores over here and teaching us the lessons we so richly deserve...

Incendiary? You bet. But that clearly wasn't the reason the comment wasn't published, as Mr. McKinstry seemed perfectly happy to display the following comments which I'm sure would cause any newspaper's legal department to perspire:
It is no surprise to me that he is called Dr. Death - I think it is a requirement that you have to be a bit of a 'fruitcake' to be a Lib Dem as most of them are.
This guy has always given me the creeps since I saw him on TV advocating telling primary school children about certain sexual exploits.
It seems our Leo can dish out the bile, but he doesn't seem to be able to take it. And since he seems intent on lowering the level of debate in this country to the vile posturing seen across the Atlantic, it seems only fit for me to call him yeller.

Mr. McKinstry, care to respond to comments that you are peddling fear and hate because you're afraid of a real debate?

*protrudes tongue*

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Equality of opportunity, fairness of outcome

This is a response I posted to James Graham's post On Equality. I'm replicating it here, partly because it ended up as something of an essay, but also because the thoughts came out a lot more developed than I thought they would.

James wrote:

Ultimately, a commitment to true equality means moving outside the narrow confines of concepts like “meritocracy”, “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome” and instead appreciating the bigger picture. Ideally, equality of opportunity ought to produce equality of outcome. In the real world we are never going to achieve that ideal but the creative tension between the two can lead to progress. By contrast, an opportunity-centric approach in the way that Andy Mayer espouses is like a factory owner having a machine in which he believes he can get the best products by putting the finest raw materials in one end, but who refuses point blank to look at what comes out at the other end.
I think as liberals we ought to be OK with the idea that person A makes more money than person B because they work harder or have better ideas. In that sense, absolute equality of outcome would be an affront to natural justice. Perhaps fairness of outcome would be a better term.

But James is right, it would be equally daft to ignore outcomes altogether when designing a fair society. For a start, there are some pretty obvious injustices - the way that women and ethnic minorities are under-represented in Parliament or on the boards of FTSE 100 companies, for example.

As a rule though I tend to believe that providing equality of opportunity is the best way to influence outcomes. I think that intervening directly in outcomes should be a tool of last resort - because to do so blunts incentives and as such limits people from reaching their full potential… not to mention enslaving people by conformity!

The biggest problem we have in British politics is that no party has attempted more than a nod at solving the biggest problem facing equality of opportunity in this country. James mentioned it himself - wealth distribution.

Socioeconomic status at birth is still by far the biggest predictor of outcomes in education, in employment, and in politics. And from a point of view of providing equality of any kind, it simply stinks.

The economist Tim Harford in his book The Undercover Economist suggests a way that you could acheive radical wealth redistribution without affecting incentives - just give everyone a lump sum at birth to compensate for the opportunities (or lack of) that you expect them to have.

That’s the sort of radical policy shift I would like us to be looking at.

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