Better dead than Red Ed

June 30, 2011

John Lennon once infamously said of Ringo Starr that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles. In a similar vein, you could probably say of Ed Miliband that he wasn’t even the best Labour leader in his own family. His decision not to support the strike that is happening today is a reflection of that.

750,000 public sector workers are striking today. Their rationale is rather simple. It is claimed repeatedly by David Cameron that public sector pensions must be reformed because the present system is “unaffordable”. In actual fact the amount we will be paying less for public sector pensions, as a percentage of GDP, will decrease even without any reforms.

These pensions are not gold-plated. The recent Hutton Report on pensions (the above graph is from p. 23 of that report) had this to say:

The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated.’ The average pension paid to pensioner members is around £7,800 per year, while the median payment is around £5,600.

In the civil service pension scheme, for instance, most workers receive a pension of less than £6000 per year.

(from False Economy)

It’s hard to disagree with Dave Prentis when he describes these pension pots as “a cushion against poverty in retirement”.

What the pension reforms effectively mean is that employees will contribute more for their pension and receive less out. That, as False Economy argues in the blog I linked to above, is essentially a pay cut. Or, as another blogger puts it, as a tax to pay off the deficit.

It’s true that these pensions are better than those received by the vast majority of private sector workers. Apart from, obviously the very rich. As the TUC briefing makes clear (p. 3):

In 2007/8 tax relief cost £37.6 billion – almost ten times the net cost of unfunded public sector pensions. This tax relief is heavily skewed towards the well off. 60 per cent goes to higher rate tax payers and a quarter of tax relief — nearly £10 billion a year – goes to the one per cent of the population who earn more than £150,000.

None of this seems like an argument to further hit public sector workers, who are already facing a pay freeze for two years in times of high inflation and what could amount for some to a 10% cut in pay.

So it’s easy to see why some public sector workers have decided to take the most extreme action possible to try and protect their already-eroding living standards.

And what was Ed Miliband’s response?

The Labour Party I lead will always be the party of the parent trying to get their children to school, the mother and father who know the value of a day’s education.

On behalf of those people I urge unions and ministers to get back around the negotiating table and sort this out…

The public deserve better. All sides need to get round the table and back to negotiations.

And he tweeted today:

For a start, it’s only a one-day strike. It’s not like the teachers have padlocked the school gates, starting singing The Internationale and taken to the streets until the government falls. If closing schools for one day affects children’s education so adversely, why was the decision taken to close schools for the royal wedding? Or close scores of them so that they could be used as polling stations on May 5th? To criticize a one-day strike because it’s hugely detrimental to children’s education seems disingenuous, to say the least.

I know that’s what many of the small socialist groups giving out leaflets on the march today, as well as people like Laurie Penny, want them to do.
But this strike isn’t about a revolution. It’s ordinary working people who have taken a democratic decision to strike in order to defend their pension. It certainly isn’t the start of an insurrection.

You can extend it to a march of people who wish to reverse the government’s economic policy. In which case, what about the parents who work at courtrooms that may be closed, who rely on Sure Start centres that may be cut, the parents that work at businesses like Thorntons and Habitat who are now feeling the pinch of the current economic climate? How is Labour going to stand up for them?

Ed Miliband’s decision not to support the strike doesn’t even make sense from a political point of view. I can only assume he’s done it because he doesn’t want to be seen as “Red Ed”, in thrall to the unions, but this seems to be mistaken. A majority of people have consistently said they are in favour of workers striking to protect terms and conditions. So Ed has ignored polls, alienated the unions who fund Labour, disappointed a lot of members and Labour’s core supporters, all for what? To stop a few bad headlines in the Daily Mail. There’s only one response for that:

And don’t even get me started on this God-awful performance.

I do think that Ed Miliband’s words say something about the existential crisis that Labour is in at the moment.

It’s becoming very difficult to answer the question of who exactly Labour is for, and what its core values are. There are those that Owen Jones calls the Blairite ultras, and Con Home calls the thoughtful leftwingers, who are essentially Blairites and believe Labour should support the cuts in their entirety. On the other extreme, there are some members of the no-cuts brigade, with every shade in between. All have different opinions on why Labour lost 4 million votes between 1997 and 2010, and all have different opinions on how Labour best wins them back.

At the moment it feels like he’s trying to please all sections of the party whilst appeasing the right-wing tabloids, and ending up pleasing nobody.

This blog will have much more to say about the direction of Labour. At the moment though, I get the feeling that this incident will have done Ed Miliband more harm than good.


The epic AV Referendum post-mortem blog: Evil triumphs when the good are led by incompetent halfwits

May 10, 2011

This is a lengthy and cathartic postmortem of the AV Referendum campaign. Parts of it (especially the bits about how the Yes campaign could have won) are based on the insights of staff and fellow volunteers in our marvellous Birmingham group. If you don’t fancy reading  all 3000 words of this, a couple of pithy quotes sum up nicely my attitudes to both campaigns:

First, the Yes campaign:

“It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain” – Geoffrey Howe in his resignation speech.

Next, the No campaign:

“There’s a bright future for all you professional liars” – Elvis Costello, How to be Dumb.

Now, on with the catharsis:

Oh dear.

A crushing defeat of 69% to 31% demands a lengthy post-mortem. It’s an absolute thumping, and surely puts electoral reform off the agenda for a generation at least.

A defeat like this has prompted a variety of reactions amongst Yes campaign activists. First, that this must mean the British people are stupid. Second, that it proves that our opponents had too much money, power and influence that there was nothing we could do. The Yes campaign was “doomed from the start” because powerful forces in the media and politics were opposed to a Yes vote. This seems to be the view of this chap/chappess:

Last night a senior source in the campaign for the alternative vote admitted they knew “very early on” that there was no chance of winning the referendum and that Clegg had become part of the problem: “Every time Clegg spoke about AV our polling numbers went into free-fall. We knew from very early on, before the new year, that we couldn’t win, our message wasn’t getting through and the Liberal Democrats in the whole were worse than useless. Clegg was toxic and everything [Chris] Huhne did in criticising the Tories just put the attention on the political spat – made it a Clegg versus Cameron affair. Utterly unwinnable.

To understand why this view is misguided, let’s have a look at the polling data and at the actual votes cast for Yes.

You can see a history of polling data for the AV Referendum here. Around the turn of the year, Yes were continually on early 40s/late 30s, and often enjoyed a narrow lead over No. Yes lost support slowly over April, then rapidly over the last couple of weeks of the campaign. For the last ten days or so of the campaign, the figures were something like Yes 32%, No 68% in most polls, which is remarkably similar to the referendum results.

The trend, then, is the No campaign winning over the Don’t Knows, and Yes losing support. Part of this can be attributed to the hardening of the Tory vote once Cameron started campaigning, but not all of it. What the overall polling suggests, from way back in 2010, is that the Yes campaign had a base of around 30% of voters, but failed to convince any Don’t Knows whatsoever. Indeed, the total Yes vote was lower than the total Lib Dem vote in May 2010.

That’s a remarkable figure, and one that cannot simply be explained by Nick Clegg, or the EVUL NO CAMPAIGN!?, as some would have us believe.

Let’s put things straight first. This referendum was winnable. It goes without saying that the Yes campaign was dealt a difficult hand. People wanted to kick Nick Clegg. The pro-reform vote was split three ways. Elderly voters and Tory voters were likely to vote No, and more likely to vote than Yes voters (often the younger voters). These factors could explain a small Yes defeat, but not one on this scale.

To say that a No vote was inevitable is wrong for a few reasons, and I want to try and outline why below. First I shall explain the main reason why a No vote happened. It’s because the Yes campaign was shockingly appalling:

1) The Yes campaign was run by people who had never run a national election campaign.

It was led by two kinds of people. The first was the Electoral Reform Society/Take Back Parliament people, who were members of a pressure group and had never run a political national campaign of any sort. The other kind of people were Liberal Democrats. As a rule, Lib Dems don’t run national campaigns: they run a series of targeted, local campaigns and do not operate anything on this scale.

The mass incompetency of the Yes campaign ran through it like a stick of rock. For instance:

2) Its central message was very poor.

The Yes campaign’s main message was “Make your MP work harder”. To which MPs could, and did, plausibly claim that they worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The yes campaign were trying to get the anti-politics vote, but they weren’t turned on by this message. I spent a lot of time giving out the “Make Your MP Work Harder” leaflets in town. I had many replies to the effect that “We don’t want MPs to work harder, we want them shot”. One said “they should work harder making their own gallows”. Our main message, then, was rubbish. It fell between two stools, and didn’t capture either the anti-politics vote, or the pro-politics vote.

The Yes campaign’s other message – about axing jobs for life and ending safe seats – also didn’t work because AV doesn’t help end these problems.

In contrast, not enough time was spent explaining why our current electoral system was not fit for purpose. The two main unquestionable benefits that AV would have brought are that it eradicates the huge amount of tactical voting under FPTP, and MPs would need a majority of support from their constituents. These are the main messages that worked when talking to voters in the street or on the doorstep, and yet were almost totally ignored by the Yes campaign. The only mention of the latter was a slogan on some Yes leaflets called “Make it 50″ which was so awful and obscure it took our office and local activists a couple of minutes to work out what central office were going on about.

As one of our activists commented on Facebook, when I mentioned I was writing a postmortem blog:

The more I think about it, the more the disconnect between the message we found actually worked on the ground and what the national campaign concentrated on, drives me nuts.

This lack of a decent message was a symptom of the fact that our campaign was not led by political campaigners.

3) Too many rubbish gimmicks

See this source from the Yes campaign, quoted in the Guardian:

We even brought in an advertising man to save us. He came up with the idea of constructing a giant pin-striped bottom to take around the country for people to throw things at as a way of illustrating that AV makes MPs work harder. It was desperate stuff.

I’m assuming this is the same person who posted toilet seats, pond cleaner and rubber ducks to us in the Birmingham group (for a street stall linking AV to the expenses scandal) and inflatable axes (“axe jobs for life”). Part of me wants to dedicate the rest of my career in politics to ensuring that people like this advertising man, and a fair few of those high up in the Yes campaign, never work in politics again. Thankfully for them (and me) I’ve got better things to do.

4) Very little was made of our main strength – the breadth of cross-party support

Nigel Farage was our secret weapon, and yet was hardly ever used by the Yes campaign. He’s a good communicator, would have appealed to older voters (Yes’s weakest demographic) and would have been a great answer to the people who said “This should be a referendum on leaving the EU”. But he wasn’t, because the Yes campaign was run by incompetents. It was trying to be a lefty-love in, forgetting that we needed to appeal to all sections of political opinion, and that we couldn’t rely on the support of all left-wing voters.

5) Squandering what money it had

The Yes campaign had less money than the No campaign. Although published figures put the funding for both parties at about the same, that ignores the large amounts of money put into the No camp from Tory central office. However, the Yes campaign still had lots of money – millions of pounds. Therefore a lack of money was not the issue. The problem was that it misspent lots of money.

It spent too much on phonebank co-ordinators, when no political party now uses phonebanking as a way to engage with voters. The Electoral Commission would have paid for the postage of one targeted mailshot to every person on the electoral roll. The No campaign took advantage of this, we didn’t. There was only one mailshot, sent out to a few targeted voters, and even that was a bit rubbish. It was full of celebrity endorsements, didn’t explain why our system was broken and how AV would change that. What’s more, it managed to cause a race row, as well as as demonstration of how not to run your official twitter account.

The truth was that Zephaniah was added, not omitted, to the Yes leaflets after one member of staff commented that it’d be odd if a leaflet featuring no BME faces was delivered to houses in London. However, they were added to leaflets in London, but not to those letters sent to residents in Birmingham (including myself) which is also very ethnically diverse, and also Zephaniah’s home city! It was a bad leaflet, badly targeted, with an awful reaction to the media furore that surrounded it. Utter, utter incompetence.

The simple fact is that some people voted No because they received a No leaflet and not a Yes leaflet. When there was a chance to send out a targeted mailshot to every house in Britain, with the postage paid for. This was an epic clusterfuck of a campaign which will go down in the annals of political incompetence.

I don’t think Katie Ghose gets that though. In her speech she said the public had been “shut out” of the debate on AV. What nonsense. If anything, they were shut out by her campaign refusing to print proper mailshots, and by the last fortnight of the campaign taken up with Chris Huhne calling the No campaign Nazis.

If you really want to hear more about the naffness of the Yes campaign, please read this very entertaining piece on Socialist Unity.

So, how could the Yes campaign have won?

If I, and a few of the people in the Birmingham office, had run the campaign, this is what we’d have done differently:

a) Changed the name

“Yes to AV” is far catchier and to the point than “Yes to Fairer Votes”. “Fairer” is reminiscent of new-politics-coalition-newspeak-fluffy-bullshit.

b) Got a professional politician to run the campaign

Perhaps someone like Paddy Ashdown or Jack Straw. Someone who has plenty of experience of running lots of national campaigns.

c) Spent more time lobbying Labour MPs to vote Yes

This from Tim Montgomerie is an absolute must-read. It’s clear that the No campaign spent a lot of time lobbying Labour MPs:

The hard slog of ‘winning the Labour party’ first so that Labour voters could be won later was carried out by former Labour MPs Jane Kennedy (who took on Militant in the 1980s)  and Joan Ryan. For weeks on end they almost lived in the atrium of Portcullis House – the place in the parliamentary estate where MPs, journalists and researchers mingle. The campaign that resulted in a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party opposing AV was won over cappuccino and chocolate muffins. The campaign was also fought in the country. “Whilst Joan Ryan was setting up Labour No to AV and building the national campaign as the deputy campaign director – particularly working out the core vote/swing vote strategy – Jane Kennedy spoke at about two hundred meetings of constituency Labour parties.

It was obvious that Labour voters were going to be the swing voters. Why didn’t Yes do the same and lobby Labour MPs? If Labour “big beasts” such as Jack Straw, Ed Miliband, Ben Bradshaw etc etc had lobbied MPs more to vote Yes, especially the No2AV Yes2PR ones, perhaps the result would have been very different.

This is what I mean when I say that a defeat for Yes was not inevitable. People point to the split of the Labour party on the issue as a reason why a No vote was inevitable. What it actually shows is how effective the No vote were at lobbying Labour, which is something Yes should have been doing as well.

d) Ditch the anti-politics message

It was rubbish and didn’t work.

e) Use Nigel Farage more and take advantage of a mailshot with post paid for.

As I’ve said above.

f) Try and turn it into a referendum on David Cameron

It’s clear that Nick Clegg was a complete liability for the Yes campaign. I don’t have the exact statistics to hand, but I reckon that every time he spoke, Yes lost 5000 votes. What we had to do was turn the referendum on Cameron instead. To quote Eddie Izzard, “If No wins than Clegg gets a bloody nose, if Yes win than David Cameron gets a bloody head”. Tory blogs were making it quite clear what dire consequences Cameron would face if there was a Yes vote. Would Labour voters have needed much persuading to inflict these dire consequences on him?

Instead, our campaign said nothing. Because, you’ve guessed it, it was incompetent. Only Labour Yes did so, and we could easily have tailored adverts like these for “ordinary” voters as well.

g) Focus on bread-and-butter issues

We all know that the No campaign adverts were despicable. However, the creator of the “dead-baby” advert, Dan Hodges, is more right than wrong here in this post. He also argues that the Yes campaign lost this referendum rather than the No campaign winning it. This is his logic for the baby advert:

When I helped created the baby campaign, it was partially because I was trying to frame the issue in a way that people worrying about their jobs, their mortgages and cuts to their services could relate to. I was desperately trying to make relevant a subject that 99 per cent of the public find a complete, utter, total irrelevance.

Now I find the advert, as I’m sure many of you do, morally abhorrent. Yet there is surely a way for the Yes campaign to have framed the referendum in those terms too: “Do you care about the NHS? Do you want to have more say in how it’s run? You should have some more say in how you elect your MP then.” We are a Parliamentary democracy. We need electoral reform for better representation, so we can decide who cuts, and how much they cut, better. After all, much more than 50% of people in May 2010 voted for parties who promised slower cuts to those happening right now, but that is in no way reflected in the Parliamentary arithmetic.

Why on earth did the Yes campaign not attempt to do that? I’m sure you can guess by now…

h) Kicked the local Lib Dems’ arses into gear

The Conservatives put their mighty party machine behind a No vote. It would have been nice for the Lib Dems to do the same, as opposed to gently encourage a few activists to give out Yes leaflets and hope for the best. I’m sure it would have been less resourced than the one run by the Tory’s but the fact that not all those who voted Lib Dem last year voted Yes last Thursday shows that not enough was done to win over all the Lib Dem support.

What about the lies of the No campaign?

All this means that, although it would be nice to blame everything on the lies and misinformation put out by the No campaign, and the unpopularity of Nick Clegg, that doesn’t seem wash for me. We had money, but it was spent badly. Labour was split so badly because little effort was made to lobby them (and Labour MPs were put off voting Yes because of our central message). Our message wasn’t getting through, because it was rubbish. Nick Clegg is unpopular, but so is David Cameron. The No campaign was terrible, but as many people were put off by their tactics as voted No because of their lies. You can’t blame a defeat of this scale on one horrible poster, and ignore all the other stupidity that went on with our campaign, even if it is very frustrating that there’s no way of sanctioning the No campaign for putting a figure on posters all around the country that even they have admitted was made up.

The fact is that we cannot say there was a big conspiracy against us that stopped us winning. If you blame the press, or the No campaign’s money, or the “structures in society” for a No vote, you’re basically saying there’s nothing we could have done. You might as well blame the lizard people, or the Jews, for us losing. Whereas we have agency. That’s the crucial thing. We could have run a much better campaign and won. To say otherwise is foolhardy and risks not learning the lessons that I’ve spelled out in this blog post. Worst, it would be an abdication of responsibility.

The future of electoral reform

Even if we’d’ve had a much-improved Yes campaign, it may still have lost. As I wrote above, it was dealt a very difficult hand, and played it badly. Even if it still lost narrowly, A defeat of 55-45, could have been spun credibly as “Well, this motion only failed because more would prefer PR to AV”, since the pro-reform vote would have split three ways: Yes, No and Meh. A loss on this scale buries the prospect of reform of the House of Commons until about 2040 at least, surely?

I assume so. There are two main possible scenarios here that I can think of.

The first is that a No vote means the two-party system is entrenched. The Lib Dem vote shrinks, or the party splits, and its votes are redistributed between the Conservatives and Labour. First Past the Post is kept, and although electoral reformers won’t be happy, it won’t be another 30-35 years before anyone even dares to speak of reform again.

The second is that the trends we’ve seen since the mid-1970s continue. More people vote for parties other than Labour or Conservative. A sizable minority (say 10-15%) still vote for the Lib Dems, whilst UKIP and the Greens gather more and more votes. This means we see more coalitions, or parties winning parliamentary majorities on yet-smaller minorities of the vote. If that happens, the calls for some form of PR could come around quicker than you think. However, I’m not sure any government would actually change an electoral system that had served them so well (c.f. Labour 1997).

There are other short-term consequences that I’ll hopefully write about later this week. This post is long enough as it is.

If anyone still wants to read more on the AV referendum, as well as those pieces already linked to this, by No2AV’s press officer, is well worth reading.

Conclusion

I hope anyone reading this from Central Office (if they do read this) isn’t too offended by this post. I’ve tried to be as constructive as possible. What I want people to take away from this is the fact that the result wasn’t out of our hands. This referendum was winnable, if we’d done things slightly better. That, surely, should cheer us. Even if AV passed, it was going to be the first step of a long journey. Sadly, the journey for political reformers seems a lot longer now than it did on May 4th.

What’s most important is that we learn our lessons from this referendum and remember that we do have the power to change things. We do have agency, and there’s no big conspiracy stopping us from changing things. As FDR might have said, had he been involved with the Yes campaign, the only thing we have to fear is our incompetence.


Thoughts on Barnsley Central: another Lib Dem disaster

March 5, 2011

Before anyone starts designing “Ed Miliband: Prime Minister in 2015″ mugs, let’s remember that this was an average performance for Labour in Barnsley Central. Yes, they won 60.8% of the vote, but that’s almost exactly the same figure they won in 2005 (61.1%).

Even when Eric Illsey had a massive expenses-shaped cloud hanging over his head in May, for which he ended up being imprisoned, Labour won with a majority of 11,000, which is about the same number as Dan Jarvis’s majority now.

So there really isn’t much point in popping champagne corks in Labour HQ just yet. None of this has anything to do with Ed Miliband. He’s the equivalent of a new football manager who has just beaten two teams in the relegation zone in his first two games.

It is interesting that, as with Oldham East, the misdemeanours of the previous Labour MP simply wasn’t an issue. This is hardly surprising, as I remarked in the Old and Sad post-mortem, people care more about the impending spending cuts than who claimed what on an expenses claim form years ago.

In his acceptance speech Dan Jarvis quoted a lifelong Tory voter, a pensioner, who apparently said to him on the doorstep something to the effect of:

This Tory-led government is cutting spending too far and too fast. It’s bad for jobs.

(I honestly cannot remember the exact quote; I can’t find the full speech online and I saw it at 1.20am so my recollection of it is hazy)

I’d be surprised if the pensioner actually referred to a “Tory-led government”, but I am sure she expressed those sentiments about the spending cuts.

For the Lib Dems, this was an almighty kicking. After narrowly finishing second in May, they finished sixth (yes, sixth!) losing 5000 votes in the process. They were beaten into fifth by an independent, who is an unemployed miner with no party machine, and the BNP finished fourth (but lost one-third of their votes from May, which is a reason to be cheerful).

Alarm bells must be ringing in Nick Clegg’s ears, despite his protestations to the contrary. In the long-term, the fate of the Lib Dems depends on the state of the economy in 2015. For now, however, it’s clear that it’s looking disastrous in the short-term for them. Local elections in May could see them completely obliterated.

The big winners of the night were UKIP, who finished second. I don’t know enough about their campaign in Barnsley to comment on why they more than doubled their vote share (4.7% in May to 12.2% now). Judging from this billboard, they went down the “human rights” angle:

It shows that, strategically, David Cameron is falling between two stools. His attempts to “detoxify” the Tory brand didn’t quite work, as seen by the fact he failed to gain a majority against a morally and intellectually bankrupt Labour Party in May last year.

Indeed, one of the most interesting parts of Andrew Neil’s documentary calling for the return of grammar schools was when he discussed polling data which suggested that C1 and C2 types, the “aspirational working and lower-middle-class” that would have voted Thatcher in the ’80s didn’t vote Tory in constituencies like Birmingham Edgbaston because they were perceived as being “too posh”. It’s voters like these that cost Cameron an overall majority.

However, by his attempts to make the Tories appear “fluffy” he has managed to alienate a great portion of the Tory right.

This was well-illustrated by Norman Tebbit, in the most mind-boggling column I’ve ever seen hosted by a national newspaper site.

After explaining that Arabs “don’t do democracy”, defending the poll tax, taking a sideswipe at Chris Patten and referring to the ECHR as “mad judicial imperialists”, Tebbit goes on to say:

I still do not know where, apart from to a Big Society gay wedding in Westminster Abbey, the Prime Minister really wants to go.

Tebbit went within a gnat’s tadger of backing UKIP in Oldham East, and a few more results like that of Barnsley Central could see him fully jump ship, along with, potentially, a few more right-wing Tories.

I’m not sure I can ever fully understand the motives of people who look at this current administration and say, “You know what the problem is with the coalition? They’re just SO left-wing”. But there is definite discontent within the Tory right, and UKIP is picking up on it.

However, one still should not overplay UKIP’s success. They only won 12% of the votes: less than 3000 in total. It hardly sees them becoming, as Nigel Farage put it “the voice of opposition in British politics” – yet. Also, governments always get kickings in by-elections.

Still, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage will be happy, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg will not. For if David Cameron tries to placate the Tory right with some more “centre-right”-type policies, that can only serve to annoy even more the few remaining Lib Dem voters.

Unlike a few partisan Labourites I know, I can’t take much pleasure from the Lib Dem implosion. It’s like watching a friend you thought you used to know go completely off the rails. I can’t see anything other than oblivion happening in May for them now.


No2AV plays the Nick Clegg card

March 3, 2011

It was obvious that No2AV were going to play the Nick Clegg card at some point. Seeing as he’s now one of the most unpopular men in Britain, tying him to the AV campaign was going to be something they would do, in the absence of any coherent arguments about why we should keep First Past the Post.

Nick Clegg’s approval ratings, which were higher than Winston Churchill before the general election, have been falling steadily ever since. The latest polling suggests that Clegg’s approval rating stands at -34, with 28% thinking he’s performing well and 62% thinking he’s doing badly.

Most importantly from the referendum campaign’s point of view is that Nick Clegg is immensely unpopular with Labour voters.

In my view, the result of the referendum will be decided by the proportion of Labour voters that decide to vote Yes or No. Most Tories are going to vote No, most Lib Dems will vote yes, with Labour being split on the issue. How their members vote will therefore probably decide the result.

Clegg’s approval ratings amongst Labour voters is a comically bad -87, with only 5% thinking he’s performing well and 92% badly. No wonder Ed Miliband has asked Nick Clegg to take a step back from the Yes campaign and avoid being its poster boy.

This makes good sense, though the thought of Ed Miliband being Yes2AV’s poster boy instead doesn’t exactly fill me with joy and happiness.

So, now to No2AV’s advert:

A Labour-supporting friend I showed the advert to said, “This is REAL?! I thought it was a parody.” That tells you all you need to know about it, I think.

It does seem like a parody, mainly because its claims are wild bollocks hyperbolic nonsense.

Duncan Stott has already written about a few of them, but I’ll expand with a bit of detail below.

1) Nick Clegg won’t be Lib Dem leader forever

At the rate things are going, he might not even be an MP in 2015. He’s MP for Sheffield Hallam, the only seat in South Yorkshire not held by Labour, and was elected courtesy of a large student vote. Something tells me that students and young people aren’t going to be so keen to vote for the Cleggmeister in the next election.

2) AV doesn’t mean the Lib Dems will get more seats

The advert indicates that the Lib Dems will automatically benefit from AV. To explode that myth you only need to look at the polling data. The latest Yougov poll puts the Lib Dems on 10%. And that’s a surge in the polls, by their standards.

The Lib Dems have consistently been the second preferences of many voters, particularly Labour voters, but I cannot see that remaining the case now. Also, as the Yougov polling data I linked to indicates, they have lost more than half of their first preference voters. Only 45% of people who voted Lib Dem in May still support them now, according to those latest figures.

I cannot believe that the No campaign have overlooked what ought to be a rather simple principle: that AV will only benefit the Lib Dems if people vote for them.

3) AV does not lead to more hung parliaments

As discussed before on this blog, there’s no evidence that AV leads to an increase in the number of hung parliaments.

Indeed, it might have escaped the No camp’s attention, but we have a hung parliament at the moment, under First Past the Post. And it’s not the only one in living memory: take 1974 for example.

4) Nick Clegg does not decide who forms a government: we do

In May, when the polls were increasingly predicting a hung parliament, Nick Clegg said that he would enter coalition talks first with the party that had the biggest mandate. And he kept his word on that (again, not something you’ll read often these days). As I’ve written before, there was no way that the Lib Dems could have entered a coalition with Labour, because the numbers just weren’t there.

So even if we had a situation, as in May, where a hung parliament looked likely, it wouldn’t be Nick Clegg who decides whether there is a hung parliament, or who decides who enters into a coalition: it would be you. Me. Us. The voters.

If anyone is reading this from No2AV: well done. This latest advert is nowhere near as morally repugnant as the baby one. However, it’s preferable if campaign adverts:

a) Are not morally abhorrent.
b) Contain some facts that are, you know, true (yes I’m looking at YOU, the bogus £25om figure still included on the advert).
c) Contain a clear, principled argument.

I suppose 1 out of 3 is an improvement from 0 out of 3.

If anyone is reading this from Yes2AV: can we have some billboards of our own, please? Ones that conform to the three points I just listed would be even better.


Ed Miliband should lay off the personal smears (that’s our job)

January 25, 2011

Ed Miliband’s main problem at the moment is that he doesn’t come across as Prime Ministerial.

I don’t mean this in the superficial sense, by how he looks or how he speaks. People can make fun of him all they want, and it’s pretty puerile, but the simple fact is that amongst the factors that will govern whether Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister, appearance is fairly low down the list. If this becomes a factor, that will only become apparent in the Leaders’ Debates. Even then, the issue will not really be about how Ed Miliband speaks, but about what he actually says, and what he does before 2015.

Take Gordon Brown for example. It’s easy to forget that he was actually riding high in the polls for the first four or five months of his premiership. People didn’t mind the sagging face and creepy smile when they thought he was actually competent. The tide turned for Brown when he failed to call the snap election in October 2007. It was stonkingly obvious to anyone that he had changed his mind because of the opinion polls, yet Brown denied this was the case in an interview with Andrew Marr. This started the rot for Brown: then the financial crisis finished him off.

Much of the debate in the Labour leadership contest last summer focussed on the fact that the party was not just picking a leader, but a potential Prime Minister. Ed Miliband needs to remember that, and act accordingly. So far, he has not acted with the necessary gravitas required.

In the first PMQs of the year, Ed Miliband came out with his trump card: fungi.

We know that the Business Secretary is not a man to mess with; he told his surgery before Christmas that he had a nuclear weapon in his pocket and he was not afraid to use it, so we should listen to him. He said: “If you keep people in the dark, you grow poisonous fungus.” On this occasion, he was not talking about the Chancellor of the Exchequer – he was talking about the bankers.

I would venture to submit that if you want to convey gravitas, and look Prime Ministerial, what you do not do is compare senior members of the government to poisonous mushrooms. Let’s face it, it’s not very big or clever.

It’s not as if that’s the only Tory Ed Miliband childishly insulted in that PMQs:

He even put the Vulcan in charge of his policy on the banks – planet Redwood and planet Cameron.

Does Ed Miliband want people to take him seriously?

The real problem with Ed Miliband resorting to personal insults is: where does that leave me?

Or rather: us, the political bloggers.

Surely it’s our job to fling personal insults and lower the standard of debate? You’d certainly think so if you listened to certain journalists. If Ed Miliband starts by comparing George Osborne to a poisonous mushroom, where can bloggers go to lower the tone? We’d have to spread rumours that he was sexually involved with horses, or something.

Anyway, all this does raise a fairly serious point. It’s one that Andrew Rawnsley made yesterday, when analysing Miliband’s reaction to the resignation of Andy Coulson:

Among those saying that this raises “real questions” about David Cameron’s judgment is Ed Miliband. He may be right, but it is also a misjudgment by the Labour leader to enter this fray. It is a sign of a weakness on his part to want to score quick tactical hits on the Tories. That sort of character attack is better left to the media and his juniors. He would be a more prime ministerial-looking figure if he held himself aloof.

Also, when one takes into account the appointments of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor (and making Phil Woolas a shadow front-bench spokesman) one wonders whether people who live in wooden huts should be firing incendiary bombs.

Given Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, it’s not surprising to see him resorting to this sort of opportunism. Especially since at the moment, because of his policy review, Labour doesn’t really have any policies that he can talk about. Yet he should still be aiming to get the tone right, and come across as a potential Prime Minister. He’s not doing that at the moment.


It’s all about the Balls

January 21, 2011

First of all, it was great to see Ed Balls looking so solemn after Alan Johnson resigned as Shadow Chancellor yesterday.

A cat trying very hard not to look as though it had gotten all the cream, Ed Balls was one happy man yesterday. As he said in the news clip that smirk is taken from, he’s been involved in economics for 25 years, and would have loved the Shadow Chancellor job when it came up in October. He would probably have been given it as well, if Ed Miliband didn’t hate his guts.

I also get the impression that Ed Miliband wanted Alan Johnson as Chancellor so that he, as leader, could have more of a role in dictating economic policy. With Balls as Chancellor, that just won’t happen. Miliband has been trying to change tack slightly on spending cuts, saying that Labour needs to talk openly about them. I can’t see this line surviving unscathed now Balls is Shadow Chancellor.

Still, Labour’s front-bench team looks better with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor. The only downside for Miliband is that he now has a Machiavellian, too-intelligent-for-his-own-good, ruthless Shadow Chancellor who will spend his time trying to become his successor as Labour leader. I’m pretty sure we’ve been here before. 

One more thing: not quite a Fantastic Headline, but a Fantastic sub-heading from the Daily Mail:

Miliband forced to hand job to Balls

Which is wrong, on so many levels. Not least that he wasn’t forced to give Ed Balls the hand Shadow Chancellor Job. He could always have appointed Yvette Cooper, or even Liam Byrne, if he was really opposed to Ed Balls becoming Shadow Chancellor.

Anyway, that’s enough Ed Balls puns. The man has suffered enough.


Old and Sad: Labour hold; Lib Dem disaster

January 14, 2011

So, at the end of all that, it’s a Labour hold. It feels like an anti-climactical end to a roller-coaster of an eight months for the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency. We’ve had one of the bitterest general election campaigns fought in recent years, two recounts, a wafer-thin majority, a court case, an MP leaving in disgrace and, according to the Independent, “the most unusual by-election ever“.

Now Debbie Abrahams has been elected as the Labour MP (full results here), the area should return to some sort of normality until 2015, the most likely date for the general election. I doubt anyone living in Oldham East wants to see any election leaflet until then; everyone is suffering from election fatigue.

I’ve been saying on Twitter and Facebook (and to anyone who would listen) that Labour would hold Oldham East for about the past week or two. This has hardly involved sticking my neck out much, though. Ever since the polls showed that Labour were 17 points ahead on Sunday, the result has felt a bit of a formality.

In May, 14,186 people voted for the Devil Incarnate with a Labour rosette attached to it. The Labour vote would only have gone up since then, given their boost in the polls. In contrast, the Lib Dem vote of 14,083 would only have gone down, despite a significant amount of tactical voting from the Tories.

To win this by-election, the Lib Dems were relying on two factors. Firstly, that the personal vote that Elwyn Watkins had developed would over-ride his party’s current chronic unpopularity. Second, that people voted Lib Dem out of a sense of injustice and outrage over Phil Woolas’s leaflets. Both these factors turned out to be insufficient.

The Woolas shenanigans has not been a factor in the campaign. Both Debbie Abrahams and Kashif Ali have said that it just was not a doorstep issue. I’ve mentioned before that it was a big issue for me, but it really isn’t that surprising that most residents of Oldham East and Saddleworth don’t care much about it. After all, we have the biggest cuts to public spending in living memory coming up. That’s a much bigger issue then who-said-what in an election leaflet eight months ago, and I say this as someone who thinks that the Woolas case is, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a pretty big deal. The fact that anger over cuts seems to have caused people to vote Labour, who would have made the majority of these cuts had they been in power anyway, seems to be by-the-by.

The big story here: disaster for the Lib Dems

Let nobody try and persuade you otherwise: this is a terrible result for the Lib Dems.

Saddleworth is, as one of their main organisers in Oldham put it to me, “the kind of area where people vote Lib Dem because their parents do”. That kind of area is thin on the ground. It was also a by-election, where the Lib Dems generally excel, in a constituency where they only finished 103 votes behind Labour in May. They had a reasonably popular local candidate, hundreds of activists on the ground, and Nick Clegg visited Oldham three times. Not to mention the fact that their campaign had a head start of both Labour and the Tories, and they also moved a writ to hold the by-election as early as possible.

Nick Thornsby has been admirably trying some damage-limitation. He said last night:

A Labour majority of 3,558 is less than Phil Woolas achieved in 2005, when the seat was identified as a target by the Liberal Democrats – not an outstanding result for them by any means.

Ah yes, 2005. When the Lib Dem candidate was Tony Dawson, who screwed up his party’s chances of gaining a winnable target seat by, as I recall:

a) Claiming he lived in the constituency when he actually lived in Southport
b) Being accused of doctoring photos on election literature
c) Making obscene comments on internet forums

You could hardly claim, then, that 2005 was a high water mark in Lib Dem support.

The other argument against a Lib Dem collapse is the fact that their share of the vote actually increased. However, this rose from 31.63% in May to the heady heights of, er, 31.9% yesterday. The number of Lib Dem votes actually fell by almost 3000, and would have fallen by much more were it not for tactical voting from some Conservatives. UK Polling Report reckon that at least 22% of Tory voters switched to the Lib Dems. Most of the other Lib Dem voters, it seems, just did not turn up at all.

The Lib Dems really believed they could win this by-election; for them not to makes you wonder where they can win at all now.

The strange collapse of the Tory vote

Baroness Warsi has been on the radio talking about how effective the Tory campaign was, despite losing 6500 votes from May. In some respects, Warsi was the perfect choice from the Conservatives to front the by-election campaign. On the one hand, she is a senior Tory (party chair, no less), Northern, Asian, and therefore could connect to the large Asian vote. On the other hand, she is completely incompetent and a liability. For an election where the Tories didn’t really want to win, but wanted to pretend that they did, Warsi was the perfect choice.

In any other situation where the Tories finished 2,500 votes behind Labour, there would have been a massive Tory campaign to win the seat in a subsequent by-election, and potentially destablise Ed Miliband’s leadership. Arif Ansari, the BBC’s political editor in the Northwest, made the point last night that whilst the Lib Dems and Labour were constantly telling him what events they were planning and who was coming to the constituency, he was having to chase the Tories to work out what was going on with their campaign. Then, when David Cameron did campaign in the constituency, he forgot the candidate’s name.

This blog from Guido Fawkes gives some of the reasons Tory activists were grumbling about their by-election campaign. It inclues this briefing note that was given in the last week of the campaign:

Suggesting they hadn’t updated their briefing notes since November. Nice one.

Still, we probably cannot read too much into this result. It’s been a Labour seat since 1997, governing parties don’t usually win by-elections, and there’s a long way to go until the next election. However, we do know now what the political narrative of the next year will be: the crumbling Lib Dem vote.


Why you should vote Labour in Oldham East and Saddleworth

January 12, 2011

It’s the final day of online hustings for Old and Sad, with just one day before voting begins. Our first article is by Paul Cotterill, Labour councillor for Bickerstaffe Ward, West Lancashire. Paul blogs here at the Bickerstaffe Record.

Let’s clear the decks first.

This is not a post about why the election has been called for 13th January. In the time I’ve spent on the doorstep during the campaign, not a single voter has mentioned this to me as a factor in their decision-making about which way to vote.  Indeed, the only person to refer to the legal case at all did so in terms of how infuriating they found it that the LibDem literature focused on it so much at the expense of anything substantive about politics. 

While it’s understandable why the LibDems should the pushing the point, they are either too caught up in their own bubble-of-self-importance to notice that who said what about their candidate is irrelevant to most people, or they’ve not got much else to say.  Or both.

Nor is this a post that seeks to persuade people to vote Labour as a way of punishing the LibDems nationally for the way the party has betrayed the country in the last nine months.   There’s hectares of coverage of that, and that’s why national polls show support has fallen to single figures.  It doesn’t need me to spell it out.

No, this is a post about why the Labour party, as represented in the person of candidate Debbie Abrahams, is best suited to serve the people of Oldham East & Saddleworth.

This election is held at a time when the Conservative-led government is wreaking havoc on our essential public services, and creating an environment in which Oldham is likely to suffer from years of unnecessary social and economic pain.

In these circumstances, the people of this constituency needs an MP who, pending its return of sensible national government, can best mitigate the effects of the government destruction agenda.

The person most suited to this task is Debbie Abrahams.

Both Debbie’s political instincts as a socialist and her professional background in public health mean that she has a sound understanding of how public, voluntary and private organizations can come together to maintain and create sustainable employment in the area even in the face of the government’s economic butchery. 

In circumstances such as these the job of a good local MP is to ensure effective co-ordination of efforts, and the job of a good Labour MP is to ensure that all this happens with equity in mind. The clear purpose of the government is to divide those who have from those who have not; Debbie’s job, working alongside her colleague from Oldham West, Michael Meacher, will be to ensure that a local, town and borough level, regeneration and renewal efforts continue to be pursued in way which meets, as far as possible in the circumstances, the kind of benchmark tests she herself has helped establish through her well-regarded work on Health Impact Assessment.

Just as importantly, Debbie is the only candidate with experience of NHS governance, from her time as Chair of Rochdale Primary Care Trust.  The government is making what is now largely recognized, even by the few Tory MPs who understand the NHS, massively destructive changes to the NHS.  These include the abolition of PCTs and the transfer of commissioning powers to GPs who may neither want nor can cope with them, and who may therefore simply hand over these powers to unaccountable private firms.  In the face of this backdoor privatization, and the knock on effect this will have for community and public health  measures (often undertaken by the voluntary sector), having Debbie in place as the MP – to lead on the development of coherent local alternatives  – is absolutely vital to everyone, and especially the most vulnerable, in the constituency.

This is the case for Debbie Abrahams.  No doubt other candidates have some attributes of their own, but it is Debbie’s particular background, experience and political commitment to public health and social and economic cohesion which make her, by a margin, the best choice for Oldham East & Saddleworth. 

And I don’t say this lightly.  I’m brilliant, and even I lost out to her in the Labour PPC selection.  So she must be good.


Phil Woolas: still crazy after all these years

December 8, 2010

Apologies for not blogging sooner on the Phil Woolas news. I wasn’t sure what to say, until I heard the man himself speaking straight after leaving court last Friday. It’s very impressive: every sentence contains an inaccuracy. It therefore deserves a good old-fashioned fisk. Woolas’s remarks are in italics; my commentary isn’t.

“The judges have said that there is no avenue of appeal for my electors, who elected me at four general elections, to have their say.”

Well, this is stretching it a bit. The judges found Woolas guilty under s. 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. That, I would argue, is the main conclusion they reached.

The fact is, that Parliament never intended for there to be a right of appeal in cases such as these. As this BBC blog puts it:

Mr Woolas did well to get even [as far as judicial review].

The law was deliberately drafted to avoid exactly this kind of legal delay; once an MP has been disqualified, they are expected to simply shut-up and go.

So the fact that Woolas was granted a judicial review on the facts, and yet his appeal was rejected anyway, is worth recounting.

Also, the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth will now have a say in a by-election. Woolas cannot stand, because he broke election law, and his punishment was to be disqualified as a candidate for three years. It is surely right and proper that if you have broken election law, you should receive some sanction for it.

So, one sentence in and Woolas has already got three things wrong. Let’s carry on.

“This is the only area of law, as far as I can see, where there is no appeal.”

This makes little sense. The court granted Woolas the right to appeal against the facts, but said that he had dishonestly made untrue statements against Elwyn Watkins that Woolas knew were untrue. As the summary judgement shows, the original election court said that Woolas had made three untrue statements that were illegal. The decision last week granted him leave to appeal, yet still found him guilty on two of those three charges.

[a little addition thanks to Peter: there are further avenues Woolas could appeal to from the High Court (such as the Court of Appeal) but he is not going any further. Not that this means the factual findings would change]

“We won on the costs argument, we won on the point of law, that I’m pleased with.”

I assume the costs argument means that he no longer has to pay Watkins’ costs. Woolas neglects the fact that he has to pay a £5000 fine.

“But the judges’ hands were tied by what is out of date law.”

This is nonsense. The law Woolas was found guilty under was passed in 1983. It was amended by New Labour, and as I’ve pointed out before, Woolas voted for that law!

After this, Woolas says thanks to both people in Oldham and Labour for the support he’s had. Then a journalist asks “What mistakes did you make, Mr Woolas?”, at around 1.02 on the video.

“I don’t believe I did make any mistakes.”

Still no apology for stirring up racial tensions. Still no apology for trying to “make the white vote angry” in a town that had race riots less than nine years ago and has a fairly significant BNP presence. Still no acknowledgement he’s broken the law.

“I believe I’m the victim of the circumstances of this law.”

Woolas is trying to paint himself as the victim. That’s an, er, interesting move.

“As I say, I believe it’s unfair that the electorate have not got the chance to say what they think.”

They do, in an upcoming by-election. Though if opinion polls were anything to go by, 71% of voters backed the electoral courts’ decision.

But he must have some regrets, surely? Only a moral vacuum could have no regrets over the kind of campaign that he led.

“I don’t regret anything that has been said.”

Oh.

“My argument is that my election leaflet and the way that has… (pause) this was one leaflet in fifteen years of Parliament that I’ve been thrown of out Parliament for.”

Although, of course, it was two leaflets. Woolas was found to have made illegal remarks in both The Saddleworth and Oldham Examiner and the Labour Rose. Sigh.

“My argument was and is that wooing certain types of vote, that is a political comment.”

Indeed. But the court decided differently. See paragraphs 121 and 122 of the full judgement. The court has said that merely saying that Watkins was an “extremist” would have been a political statement on his position, and therefore not illegal:

However when it was asserted in The Examiner that those whose votes were being wooed by Mr Watkins were those who were not simply extremists but those who advocated extreme violence, in particular against Mr Woolas, it plainly suggested, as the Election Court found, that Mr Watkins was wiling to condone threats of violence in pursuit of political advantage. It was not then a statement about the type of support he was wooing, but a statement that he was willing to condone threats of violence. That further statement took the statement from being a statement as to Mr Watkins’ political position to a statement about his personal character – that he conducted criminal conduct. It is not simply an implied statement in relation to a political matter, but a statement that goes to his personal character as a man who condones extreme violence. (my emboldening)

Woolas goes on:

“I never said, as some have said, that the Liberal Democrats supported violence. That is a preposterous thing to say. Of course that is not the case.”

This is the weakest of straw men. I’m slightly obsessed with the Woolas case, as you might have noticed, and I have not read once, in any of the reports connected with it, that he accused the Liberal Democrats of supporting violence.

But that was the interpretation given by the judges.

*hits the roof, goes absolutely apoplectic, kicks kitten*

Apologies for that outburst of anger, but Phil Woolas brings out the worst in me. As the judgement clearly shows, this was related to the personal conduct of Elwyn Watkins, not the Liberal Democrats. To say otherwise is a complete untruth.

Not by the people, but by judges. And I regret that much.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, it is a fallacy to suggest that it is undemocratic for judges to intervene in this way.

That’s enough for now. I’m going to have a lie-down.


You can’t condone the violence, but you can understand it

November 16, 2010

Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed
You either shut up or get cut up, they don’t wanna hear about it
It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel
And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
Tryin’ to anaesthetise the way that you feel

Elvis Costello, Radio Radio.

This blog is called Paperback Rioter because it’s a cute pun, but there’s a semi-serious point behind that pun. I don’t do rioting: this blog really is a chronicle of “fear and loathing on the campaign trail”. I write, debate, attend meetings, will be campaigning for AV, go on the occasional march. But I don’t kick in windows or throw fire extinguishers off buildings. That’s not my style.

The reasons why are rather obvious. The right to protest does not equal the right to violence.

Also, violence does not help the cause of the protesters. The usual caveats about opinion polls apply obviously, but of those sampled for Yougov (see p5), 69% say that the violence damaged the protester’s cause, as opposed to only 11% who thought it helped the cause. Three quarters of those surveyed say that violent protest is never acceptable in a democracy. This comes from a survey where 65% sympathised with the demonstration and the majority of whom (52% to 35%) disagree with the government’s policy on tuition fees.

Those minimising or condoning the violence (of which there are quite a few) like to draw attention to the fact that the protests only got so much publicity because of the violence.

This implies that all publicity is good publicity, which is obviously not true. I’ve highlighted in the last paragraph that it probably damaged the cause amongst the general public. This Daily Mail front page about the activities of Labour MPs probably gave a lot of publicity to the Labour Party, but you’d be hard-pushed to say that all this publicity was beneficial:

 

Having said all that, this violence is understandable. It also isn’t just coming from the usual “rent-a-mobs”. As Laurie Penny observed in her brilliant, must-read Gonzo-style piece on the Millbank violence. This is just one example of many from her piece:

Not all of those smashing through the foyer are in any way kitted out like your standard anarchist black-mask gang. These are kids making it up as they go along. A shy looking girl in a nice tweed coat and bobble hat ducks out of the way of some flying glass, squeaks in fright, but sets her lips determinedly and walks forward, not back, towards the line of riot cops. I see her pull up the neck of her pink polo-neck to hide her face, aping those who have improvised bandanas. She gives the glass under her feet a tentative stomp, and then a firmer one. Crunch, it goes. Crunch.

Which begs the question: why are there angry protests happening now, when in 2003 New Labour tripled university fees to £3000 a year, just two years after their manifesto said that they “will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them”?

Some on the right have argued that because now “teh evul Toriez” are in power, the left has reverted to its default position of opposing everything they do. This is slightly paranoid of them, but might contain a grain of truth. New Labour could certainly get away with acts like introducing tuition fees and experience far less dissent from the left than if a Tory government had introduced a similar policy.

The anger is about more than that, though. It’s about 13 years of broken promises from a Labour government. It’s that almost 7 million people voted Liberal Democrat in May, a party who had pledged to scrap fees, and are now going to triple them now in government.

To understand the anger, then, we need to go back to that greatest of moral philosophers, George W. Bush:

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me

It’s not as if scenes like this weren’t foreseen. In April, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats (not to be confused with the Deputy Prime Minister of the same name) said there could be riots in the streets if savage cuts were implemented:

As Johann Hari has written, all that’s changed is that now Clegg is the chief cutter.

It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the Lib Dem betrayal. Clegg has used this opportunity to been able to drop a policy he tried to get rid of last year. After the party rebelled against him and voted to keep its policy of abolishing fees, every Lib Dem MP signed a pledge to abolish fees. It transpires that that the Lib Dems had no intention of keeping in a hung parliament:

[A] secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years

A democratic solution has therefore failed, so it’s no great surprise rioters are taking to the streets. We now need another democratic solution: backing the right to recall (another Lib Dem policy).

This would mean that MPs who break promises or are found guilty of impropriety would be vulnerable to a constituency petition. If ten per cent of constituents sign that petition, then that MP would face an immediate by-election.


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