Friday, 31 December 2010

Poll Shocker - unless you actually have a working brain

Sky are shocked to learn that the Lib Dem MPs, who approved the Coalition agreement without a single vote against, have said that they're going to keep their word and stay in the coalition. Funnily enough, I always thought that, when they signed into a five year agreement, they did it with the intention of keeping it.

Also, if they were going to break the agreement, surely they wouldn't announce it to Sky over the phone, of all people. I mean, given that Sky is Murdoch's favourite tool to shoehorn public opinion into supporting what he wants surely every Lib Dem MP would be stampeding to give them an exclusive.

Seriously, the whole article is exasperatingly hilarious. If I'd been one of the Lib Dem MPs I'd have had a one syllable supply to the question:


Thursday, 30 December 2010

Who wants to help a crazy russian out?

Dig out your beer mats, a stamp and a jiffy bag. Pronto!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

I'm an obsessed, crazy fanatic

Apparently, there are plans underway to replace the No. 10 petition website with a mechanism that would allow petitions to be debated in parliament.

Labour MP Paul Flynn has been criticising this. One of his loquacious gems was:

The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward.

Well, that's certainly put me in my place. After all, here I am, sitting in my parent's basement (actually I'm in a living room in front of a log fire), frothing at the mouth (as if I ever would) and furiously typing (languidly is probably a better verb) my insane ramblings, blaming everyone and everything from socialists to fascists to the New World Order for my own miserable life (actually I'm rather happy with my life but I'd be a poor sport to try and escape the stereotype).

After all, it's not like bloggers routinely offer insightful commentary on current events, report stories which the main media ignores or call journalists and politicians out on lies and deceit. It's not like ordinary people ever have the temerity to go online and voice their opinions on matters which they feel politicians ignore.

Now, I'll be frank, some of the petitions on the No. 10 website have been insane - such as one protesting the application to build a "Megamosque" in Birmingham when there was no such application at all. However, there have also been petitions on such irrelevant issues as civil liberties, child detention and more. Quite clearly the public are not to be trusted with having their say - apart from election times of course, when I'm sure that Mr Flynn suddenly becomes a staunch man of the people, willing to listen to anyone and take their concerns seriously.

Look, the proposals are to include the introduction of certain criteria before a petition can be discussed - and I'd imagine such criteria would include something on making sure that the petition was actually about something that had really happened - so come on, give us some credit Mr Flynn. If you want to go and show your ignorance over a part of the internet which you clearly know nothing about then go ahead. But I'd like to think that the British people are slightly more intelligent than you give them credit for and certainly more intelligent than you.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

A student's view

An old school friend of mine has written a very good article on her personal experience with tuition fees. It's well worth a read.

What ifs and the Coalition

A lot of people talk about what ifs. What if, following the general election, the Lib Dems had done this, or Labour had done that or if the Tories had done something else. Some scenarios have no coalition being made and no confidence and supply agreement either. Somehow this would have led to a magical progressive wonderland where the tories would have been defeated and been forced to implement left wing policies. That indeed is a wonderful image. But complete and utter poppycock.

There are three main reasons why any scenario other than the current one was impossible. The first is that the tories could have simply called another election, which the other parties couldn't afford to contest, and won the slim majority they needed to form a government.

The second is that any longer without a government and the markets would have lost confidence, pulling the rug out from underneath us and leaving us in a situation as bad as Ireland's. They don't do this when other countries (such as Belgium) spend ages holding coalition negotiations, but that's because a) in this country we have a media which was in uproar at a mere five days without being privy to what was happening and b) because the markets have all the intelligence of an over-ripe turnip.

The third reason is that there were no real alternatives to a coalition. I wish there had been others but there weren't. The LDs are making the best of a bad job and, apart from the monstrous betrayal by some (not all) of them over fees, they aren't doing too bad.

Not everyone will agree with me on this of course, so let me address my two hypotheses:

Labour and the Lib Dems would have been unable to afford to fight a second election

Labour is £20 million in debt already, the Lib Dems coffers are almost empty. There are 650 constituencies, merely to stump up the deposit to stand a candidate would be in the region of £500k - and that's not taking into account printing costs and all the other paraphernalia of an election campaign. There'd be no money for political broadcasts or anything else - sure people would come out and vote but the overwhelming message dominating the election campaign would have been the tory one - relentlessly pumped out via television, leaflets and the tabloids - that any government other than a majority would cause financial ruin. That would probably have been enough to win the election for them.

Of course, people might have voted differently but it's a hell of a lot to gamble on - particularly when the only thing you have is the hope that your vote will hold up.

An absence of a strong government would have led to a collapse in market confidence

Here's what it boils down to: as a nation, our credit rating is determined by market confidence. If confidence falls, so does our credit rating and then our interest payments go up, making it even harder to pay off the deficit. On the monday following the election the FTSE fell - the markets didn't like the uncertainty of the election results. In the negotiations even Labour were willing to concede that a quicker deficit reduction was needed. I'm not saying that politicians or the markets were right to think that a government without a majority would have meant disaster but that was the orthodox opinion at the time and it is hardly surprising that the politicians made their decisions accordingly.

Why there were no alternatives to a LD/Tory Coalition

If you read Mr Laws' account of the coalition negotiations you will see that the Lib Dems had already decided to do a confidence and supply agreement if no coalition deal was possible. The details of it were all worked out before Labour came to the negotiating table. We could have had a confidence and supply agreement but the tories could have threatened to call an election at any time whilst simultaneously being dependent on their right wing to get anything done. I guarantee you that, however abhorrent you find our centre-right government, it is far better than a full fat right wing government which is what the alternative to the coalition was.

Under the current government we have earning linked pensions, the pupil premium, an end to the detention in barbaric conditions of innocent children, trident renewal kicked into the long grass, reform of the House of Lords and a referendum on AV. None of these would have been possible without Lib Dems in a coalition.

Personally I would have liked to see a rainbow coalition, which might well have been possible, despite the parliamentary arithmetic being against it, were it not for the fact that half the Labour leadership, including Ed Milliband, were opposed to it.

It's almost amusing that the Lib Dems are now shouldering the burden of government whilst Labour are enjoying the blanket of opposition without yet providing any alternatives to what the coalition is doing. Our political system requires a credible opposition but we do not have that at the moment. Labour failed in government and now they are failing in opposition.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Motion of No-Confidence in Nick Clegg

Following the result in the House of Commons today, where the increases in tuition fees were passed with a majority of 21 votes, I, as a Lib Dem feel betrayed. I accept that the proposals are marginally better than the current system and that compromise is necessary in a coalition. Indeed, I continue, in general, to actively support the coalition. But our MPs signed pledges that they would vote against any increase in fees - this wasn't a negotiable manifesto promise but a cast iron guarantee to the electorate. I campaigned on this basis and believed our MPs would keep their word. You can see what Nick Clegg said on the matter here.

As a result of this betrayal, I will be submitting the following motion to the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference (anyone interested in sponsoring it can contact me here):

Business Motion of No Confidence in Nick Clegg MP as Federal Party Leader

Conference notes the assessment by the Guardian Datablog that 64% of the party’s manifesto for the 2010 General Election is present in the Coalition Agreement. Conference also notes:
a)      The findings of the Browne Review, that under it tuition fees stand to rise substantially and the report’s role as the basis of the proposals submitted to a Commons vote on the 9th of December.
b)       That in this vote 27 of the party’s 57 MPs broke their pre-election pledge not to vote in favour of an increase in tuition fees.
c)       That the parliamentary party leader, Nick Clegg MP was one of those MPs who broke their pledge.

Conference further notes the constitutional inability of Conference to recall the Federal Party Leader under the Federal Party Constitution.

Conference applauds the presence of 64% of our manifesto in the Coalition Agreement and of the efforts of our MPs and Peers in further advancing Liberal Democrat policy and values in government.

Conference believes that the breaking of the tuition fees pledge runs contrary to the wishes and values of the majority of the party and those who supported us.

Conference further believes that the breaking of the tuition fees pledge discredits and damages trust in the party and its principles.

Conference also believes that the party leader has betrayed the party’s core values on several key issues and that this does no credit to the party as a whole.

Conference therefore:
1.       Expresses its dissatisfaction with the actions of the Liberal Democrat MPs who broke their pledge.
2.       Supports those MPs who kept their pledge.
3.       Criticises the party leader for not doing more to support and publicise Liberal Democrat values and achievements in government.
4.       Expresses its belief that the continuation of Nick Clegg as party leader is damaging to the party’s credibility and electoral prospects.
5.       Calls upon Nick Clegg to resign as party leader.
6.       States that it has no confidence in Nick Clegg as party leader.
I hope this will go some way to showing the general public that not all Lib Dems are lying bastards like our leader.

The important thing to remember is that leaving the party, for social liberals like myself, would solve nothing. We are the party. What the leadership is doing is not representative of the Liberal Democrats or are policies - in my eyes Clegg and co have left the party, ideologically speaking. Now we must work to make that a reality. We are fortunate that, unlike the two other major parties, we are a democratic party and independent minded so those who have double crossed our members should expect to pay for it and this motion should be a taster to them of things to come.

Monday, 29 November 2010


Here's an extract from the BBC article on the latest wikileaks revelations:

In 2004, a German citizen was snatched in Macedonia and allegedly taken to a secret prison by the CIA. Agents had apparently mistaken him for an al-Qaeda suspect.
A 2007 cable from the US embassy in Berlin details the efforts the US made to persuade Germany not to issue international arrest warrants for the CIA agents accused of involvement.
In an account of a high-level meeting between US and German officials, the cables states that US diplomats "pointed out that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the US".
This is the kind of thing that makes me very angry. The German man in question, Khaled El-Masri, was an innocent who had a misfortune to have the same name as a terrorist suspect. He was illegally kidnapped, imprisoned in Afghanistan, interrogated and tortured. For over a year. His family had no idea what had happened to him. He had no chance to defend himself, to seek legal representation, every human right he had was taken from him. He had to go on a hunger strike for 27 days before he was able to force a meeting with a prison official and a CIA official. And this was taking place after they'd already found out that his passport was genuine and that he was innocent.

Eventually, after the news finally worked it's way up to Condoleeza Rice and she ordered his release, they flew him out of Afghanistan and dumped him out of a van on a back road in Albania with no apology and no funds to get home. That's the equivalent of a Brit being abducted while on holiday in Ireland and being dumped in Iceland. Imagine that was you, or that he was your family member. Imagine the ordeal he and his family have gone through.

The US government and judiciary have blocked any attempts at proper recompense, or to bring those responsible for this appalling act to justice. And now finally it is revealed that they tried to prevent Germany from issuing arrest warrants for the agents responsible. This just takes the biscuit. There are not the words strong enough to describe this outrage. This was a crime, a crime against the most basic of human rights and against the whole concept of liberty, democracy and civilisation. The fact that the US and German governments ultimately protected those responsible from any punishment or justice reveals just how wrong things have gotten.

I accept that there are terrorists, I accept that we need to defend ourselves and I accept that the nature of what security services do is not always pleasant. But there is not, and never can be an excuse for this kind of injustice. We are meant to be better than Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we certainly claim to be. But thins happen in our name which are just as abhorrent and the failure of our governments to put a stop to it is disgusting.

Don't kid yourself that the UK isn't complicit in this kind of thing. Maybe not in this incident but there have been others. And just think of how many more like Khaled there could be or will be in the future. What happened to Khaled and which continues to happen is utterly vile. I am outraged by this and ashamed to know that we have been complicit in exactly this kind of crime and are allies with people who commit these crimes. It is utterly wrong and all it has done is show me exactly how little faith we should have in arguments of national security. Security services should be held to account and transparency is the only way to do it. Those politicians and members of the judiciary who help with the cover-ups are utterly despicable and to me they are no better than terrorists themselves.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Recipe for a tasty dinner

This will only take about 20 minutes:

Ingredients needed: rice, peas, sweetcorn soy sauce and chicken.

  • Put some peas and sweetcorn (frozen for preference) into a saucepan along with rice (just under half a beaker per person) and put on a medium to high heat
  • Put about two teaspoons of oil into a frying pan (I prefer walnut oil but any cooking oil will do)
  • Put the frying pan on a medium to low heat
  • Chop up some chicken (about 200g per person) and throw it into the frying pan.
  • Use a spatula or spoon to regularly push the chicken around so it cooks on all sides and doesn't stick to the bottom
  • When the chicken has just started to go golden brown in places pour soy sauce into the frying pan and make sure that you stir the chicken so the soy sauce gets worked in
  • Keep stirring the chicken until it has gone a dark golden brown
  • Take the chicken off the heat and strain the rice and vegetables
  • Mix the rice and vegetables together and serve onto plates
  • Serve the chicken on top of the rice and voila, a tasty meal in 20 minutes.
P.S. this is a very good recipe for students like myself as all the ingredients can be bought fairly cheaply and are good value for money.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Control Orders

There's a very good argument against Control Orders over on LibDemVoice. I suggest you go and read it.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ralph's Story: Yes to Fairer Votes

This is Ralph, a World War Two veteran, and this is why he's voting yes to the Alternative Vote.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How Ireland can solve its problems

So, despite having no real economic background and a complete ignorance of all the complexities of their situation, I'm going to give the Republic of Ireland some advice about how to get of their current difficulties.

First, leave the euro and readopt the Irish Pound. Quite frankly, being in the euro is doing you no favours and, as it's the Central Bank that control interest rates and the like, leaving the euro would give you a lot more tools to deal with your problems. Leaving would be problematic for a while but at least the Irish Pound would settle at a value representative of their economic strength and would be weak enough to allow them to start exporting competitively.

Second, default on your debts. Sure, the banks may collapse but if your government sets up an internal state owned bank to continue lending internally then you won't suffer many serious internal effects and at least you won't be paying huge amounts of interest to foreign banks and bondholders any more.

Third, take a very state directed view of your economy for the time being. People homeless on the verge of being evicted from their homes? Cancel all mortgages and other debts, you own the home you live in. You've got thousands of empty homes so move the homeless people into them and if there aren't enough then start a state run house building program to build more - it would at least provide some meaningful employment for those without jobs.

Fourth, the basic human needs nowadays are shelter, food, water and energy. We've already dealt with the shelter problem so ensure that a) no food is exported until internal demand has been met b) that the water supplies are nationalised so that everyone has access to it and c) that the energy industries are nationalised so that you can keep the lights on. Put simply, Ireland is self-sufficient in basic necessities. there's no need for people to go cold or hungry as long as the state intervenes to make it so.

Now, this is in effect heavy socialism. I, like a lot of people take the view that state socialism can be a bad thing in the long run, but in the short term it's exactly what Ireland needs. The crisis facing them is comparable to that of Britain in the First and Second World Wars and what did the government do in those situations? It assumed control of key industries and resources for the duration of the crisis. Ireland should do the same.

Once your internal economy is working again, when you've reduced unemployment figures through mass national work programmes (such as infrastructure building) and people no longer need fear losing their homes or being bankrupted by the banks, you can start privatising things again and loosening state control. Only this time make sure there are regulations in place to prevent this kind of crisis from ever happening again.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

It's a royal wedding!

In case you haven't already heard, Prince William and Kate Middleton are going to be getting married in the Spring or Summer of next year. I'd like to start this post by wishing them both the very best and I hope they are very happy together - just as I would for any other couple.

Right, that's it. That's my contribution to the media frenzy which will engulf everything for the next 6 or 9 months. Believe me, this will be unlike anything you've ever seen before (unless you're old enough to remember Charles' and Dianna's marriage). The Olympics? Michael Jackson? Jade Goody? Forget it, they will pale into insignificance compared to the saturation coverage we will be getting of the new Royal Wedding. Already the BBC has several different articles on their romance, their marriage and the fairytale story. I hope you like their faces because you're going to be bombarded with them for the next few months. So, expect me to be going into grumpy mode.

It's not that I don't like the monarchy, in fact I support their continued existence as they fulfil a useful constitutional function, but I have no desire to salivate over every possible detail of their lives. So, if you keep bleating on at me about this wedding, particularly as time goes on and the media coverage becomes even more saccharine and inane, please don't be surprised if I punch you in the face. Thanks.

Monday, 15 November 2010


The other day my dad was visiting me in Guildford and he drive me into town so we could both do some stuff at the banks. We ended up parking in the same road we normally do, a side street just off of North Street.

When we got to the ticket machine we found that the charges had gone up, 70p for thirty minutes. Now, I appreciate that Surrey is a wealthy county but that kind of charge seems extortionate to me. Anyway, we paid £1.40 for an hour like we normally do. However, when the ticket was printed out I noticed that it had only given us thirty minutes, which was irritating to say the least. So we took the ticket and highlighted how much we'd paid and when, scribbled a note on it saying that the meter had given us the wrong time, stuck it on the dashboard and left.

When we got back after about 45 minutes we discovered a ticket on our windscreen. When I picked it up I found a message on the back that the warden had written saying that the meter was correct and that the maximum stay was 30 minutes. It was at this point that we noticed that all the signs said 30 minutes max stay - they'd been changed since we were last there. Now, I know this was our fault, we should have checked before parking but we were so used to it being an hour max stay that we didn't bother to check.

Fortunately, when we looked inside the ticket bag we found it was empty - the warden had clearly applied some common sense and decided to just leave a note and let us off on this occasion as it was a genuine mistake and that we had paid for a full hour. So, it just goes to show, there are traffic wardens who aren't complete dicks!

But the thing that gets me is this. Why did the council reduce the max stay to 30 minutes? And how can they justify raising the charges?

For example, say I park there to go to the Nationwide. It'll take me 15 minutes to walk there and back. And if there's a queue it could take me 15 minutes inside the bank. So all I can do is one thing, I can't stop off in M&S or Sainsbury's to pick up a few bits and bobs, I can't nip into WHSmith's for some more toothpaste, all I can do is dash to the bank and dash back as quickly as possible. How does that possibly benefit local businesses? Thirty minutes is simply not enough time to get from the car to the high street, do some meaningful shopping and get back again. I, for example, prefer to go to Jack's for a haircut, there's no way I could do that with a 30 minutes max stay.

Of course, it's not just Guildford Council doing this, I've seen it done in loads of places all over the country. But, seriously, what's the point of a 30 minute max stay? You might as well abolish parking there altogether - it would only be marginally more inconvenient and at least you'd save on the costs of the parking meters and the parking wardens.

And as for the increased charges, I wouldn't mind but they've also just increased the cost of permit holders tickets in my street as well. That wouldn't be so bad if we actually saw a return for our money. But our roads are still the third worst in the entire country and our council hasn't even restocked on salt for winter which means that the roads will be in an even worse state next year. So, I've decided to make my council a deal - you sort out the roads and then I'll be happy to pay increased charges. If not, then fuck off.

Lord Falconer is wrong

The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, will be trying this afternoon to have the Bill which contains the AV referendum, be declared a hybrid bill, effectively derailing it.

Not only is this claim ridiculously partisan, aimed at kicking a crucial government policy into the long grass, depriving people from having a say on the electoral system, purely to preserve Labour's unfair electoral advantage, but it is also completely flawed. The claim that this is a hybrid bill simply does not stand up, as Mark Pack cogently argues on LibDemVoice.

*update* Lord Falconer's bid to derail it has failed.

A reason to be cheerful

The Lib Dems just had their internal elections and, in addition to the excellent Tim Farron being elected, several of the people elected to the party committees are what the Guardian describes as "anti-Tories".

Now, as the about me part of this blog says, I'm social liberal leaning. In fact, I'm more than social liberal leaning, I am a social liberal through and through. As such I naturally dislike the tories. I think Conservatism (capital C) is selfish, ignorant and immoral. Not that I hate every Tory supporter. I've met quite a few Conservatives over the years and most of them seem to be perfectly nice people who have good reasons for believing what they do. They're wrong of course, but that's only my opinion and I respect them for having found a world-view which they believe in. It's the same thing for me with a lot of Labourites - I disagree with them but I respect them.

But anyway, back to the Guardian article. It says:

Liberal Democrat candidates who called for their party to move away from Tory policies triumphed in internal elections for its two ruling bodies at the weekend.
Nick Clegg has been at pains to emphasise the Lib Dem leadership supports all coalition government policies, but the former MP Evan Harris topped the poll, calling for the party to "distance ourselves from Conservative policies that have been imposed on our ministers".
Now, besides having admiration for the brilliant man who is Dr Evan Harris, I think that this is spot on. Too many people see us as just an adjunct of a Tory government, implementing and defending their policies whilst getting nothing in return. Which, of course, is nonsense (see the list at the bottom of my article here). So I'm very glad to see so many great candidates elected (on of them being Guildford's candidate at the last election, Sue Doughty) who, whilst not being rabidly anti-Tory, do disagree with them on lots of key issues more than Nick Clegg seems to.

To me, this is vital for the part's future. One of the well known aspects of the behavioural sciences is the way people's opinions can be dragged far from their starting position by relatively small changes - a person who agrees to put an anti-smoking sticker on their windscreen will agree to put a large ant-smoking placard on their lawn a few years later even when they were opposed to it previously. This is why the election of so many social liberal candidates is a good thing. It will stop us from being dragged to the right and will hopefully make Nick and Vince come to their senses. We're a social liberal party and I think that with these elections we will definitely remain one.

Finally, a word from Dr Harris:

"Nick Clegg should know that while the party mainstream supports him, these election results demonstrate that they want to help him resist more effectively Tory-initiated policies which are not in the coalition agreement and which are antithetical to Liberal Democrat policies and principles."
 You said it mate, you said it.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Musings on the November survey

Over on LibDemVoice they regularly do a survey of Lib Dem members. This month's results are here.

Basically, like me, the majority of members think the Lib Dems are on the right track, they support the Coalition, approve of it's record and think it will last for four years or more. However, also like me, the majority of members also think the Coalition will be bad for our prospects at the next general election. But, unlike me, they approve of Nick Clegg's performance of leader to date, net +40% approval, though this does contrast with his approval rating of +62% in August.

Why I'm still a Lib Dem

A lot of people recently have been asking me why I'm still a Lib Dem and it seems it is now de rigeur for any Labour or Green party supporters to ask that of any Lib Dem they meet. So, partly for the sake of convenience, I am writing this so that all my reasons are in one convenient place which I can direct people to.

So, let's start with the Coalition. Did I support the Coalition and do I still support it? Absolutely.The reason for this is quite simple. On the 6th of May the electoral arithmetic meant that there were only three options for government. The first was a so-called Rainbow Coalition of Labour and the Lib Dems and anyone else who could be convinced to hate the tories. This was patently unworkable. For one thing, even if everyone had fully committed to the Rainbow Coalition it would have still lacked a majority and even if it had managed to achieve one it would still lose it any time a single MP decided to rebel on an issue - it would have led to a deadlocked and unworkable government. For another thing, Labour entered the coalition negotiations with an inflexible position which would have essentially seen a fourth Labour government with a few minor things thrown into please the Lib Dems - on all the key issues we would have just been going along with Labour policy. Couple this with outright statements by people like Ed Balls that they would refuse to work in a coalition with the Lib Dems and the whole thing became impossible.

The second option was a minority Tory government with perhaps a Lib Dem confidence and supply agreement. This, on the face of it, would have been feasible. But with no clear agreement on the economy, and dozens of issues where the parties disagreed, parliament would have been deadlocked. The tories would have published an emergency budget, heavily influenced by their now very influential right wing, and had it rejected by the House of Commons. With market confidence in Britain weakening, the tories would have called a second election which they would have won. What very few people seem to realise is that after the May election Labour was £20 million in debt, the Lib Dems had spent everything, and the Tories still had Ashcroft cash burning a hole in their pockets. The Tories would have been the only ones able to afford a decent campaign, the right wing media would have stirred up fear about the markets, and people would have come to the conclusion that hung parliaments were too dangerous and returned a slim tory majority beholden to its far right backbencher MPs. The Lib Dems would be seen to have lost their courage and to have shown themselves unfit for government - we would have not recovered for a generation. Now, it may be possible that this might not have been how things turned out but it was certainly too probably an outcome to take the risk.

This left only Coalition with the tories. The tories went into the negotiations ready to compromise. They showed a willingness to find a middle ground and we ended up with an agreement containing 65% of the Lib Dem manifest (and this is according to the Guardian). The Coalition has a substantial majority which means it is not constantly dependent on rebellious right wing tory backbenchers to govern. This enable Cameron to put people like Iain Duncan-Smith in prominent positions - leading to One Nation Conservatives  in the top positions instead of Thatcherites. This is why I supported the Coalition agreement - it was the only option which allowed us to deliver on the majority of our manifesto while moderating the worst of the tories.

Now, I don't pretend that I like everything the Coalition is doing. There are some areas which really make me angry. Tuition fees are one of them. But, when it comes down to it, tuition fees and the economy have been our only two big u-turns.

Now, I still think that the cuts should be slower so as to give the economy more time to recover but I think that the current plan isn't too bad. Unless we cut now our interest payments on our debt alone will continue to grow year on year leading to even less money to spend in the future. But, the indications from the government are that, if the economic situation suddenly worsens, they will reconsider their plans on cutting. This is a sensible approach and, pragmatically speaking, I think that the cuts will be good for our economy as a whole even if they do damage public services. And, in 2015, once the economy has recovered and the cuts are over, the new government will have the ability to fix the damage done to public services but we as a nation will be in a stronger position. Do not forget, these cuts are not Thatcherite style cuts which will flog off national assets dirt cheap and make millions unemployed, these are plans which will see 490,000 lose their jobs in the public services but it will be over 5 years with the majority of the job losses coming through natural wastage. It's unpleasant, but it's nowhere near as bad as it could have been. The next five years will not see the demolition of public services and that is something we can be thankful for.

I'm still extremely angry over tuition fees and I don't intend to roll over and accept the party leadership's betrayal on this issue. To put it bluntly, we made a cast iron promise and we must keep it and any of our MPs who don't will be showing their complete lack of integrity. However, I do think the new system will be marginally more progressive than the current system and it's still completely possible that a backbench rebellion will defeat the government on this issue - I very much doubt that the majority of our backbenchers will break their pledge on this issue and I've heard of at least two tory backbenchers who will rebel. If the NUS and the rest of us keep the pressure up I'm not sure we can't win.

The party does not agree with the leadership on this issue as surveys of our members have shown. In one survey 59% of members thought that all our MPs should keep their pledges on tuition fees and another survey showed that 41% would not support an increase in tuition fees no matter what. I personally have pledged not to campaign on behalf of any of our MPs who break their pledge and Liberal Youth conference, as well as every other regional conference (with the narrow exception of the south west), passed motions against an increase in tuition fees and I know that Liberal Youth in particular is taking an active part in the campaign against fee increases. In Guildford (my home) the local party and all of our councillors have come out against an increase in tuition fees and will be working to oppose it. Our newly elected party president, Tim Farron, has also stated that he will oppose an increase in tuition fees, describing them as the "poll tax of our generation".

To me this shows that the party is still the same party it was before May and, by staying a member, I can work with others using our (uniquely amongst the major parties) democratic internal structure to ensure that it remains our party and not Nick Clegg's. I'll be addressing what I think will happen to him in another post, possibly later today.

Finally, here's a list of reasons why I'm still supporting the Coalition:
  • The individual tax allowance to be raised to £10,000 by 2015, with a £1,000 increase already
  • The end of child detention - happening slower than I like but it's still happening
  • The new Green Investment Bank and the Green Deal - weaker than what would have happened under a Lib Dem government but still a massive step forwards
  • Welfare reform - some parts of it I really don't like but overall I support it. Ending the cycle of dependency, simplifying an overcomplicated system and making work pay for the first time in decades will be a huge achievement
  • Costed cuts to the police budget which will reduce the bill without cutting front-line numbers
  • A switch to a more preventative approach in dealing with crime - far better than continuing to lock up ever increasing numbers of young people
  • Trident renewal postponed until after 2015 - a huge victory considering that both the Tories and Labour are dead set on renewal.
  • A referendum on AV - a chance to finally start sorting out our broken electoral system and a cause which has attracted huge grassroots, non-partisan support
  • The banking levy - smaller than I might like but a strong step in the right direction
  • The link to earnings returned to pensions - after years pensioners will finally get a fair deal
  • Capital Gains Tax increased - an end to the injustice where millionaires can end up paying less tax than their cleaners
  • Science spending protected in cash terms - vital to a strong recovery and economy
  • Cross rail and the High Speed Rail Link to the north to go ahead - infrastructure building that will provide thousands of jobs and provide a permanent boost to our economy
  • An elected House of Lords via proportional representation to be introduced - about bloody time
  • People will have the power to recall their MPs
  • Fixed term parliaments - giving more power to the Commons and less to the Prime Minister
  • ID cards scrapped - a very good thing as all those fears over them were completely justified
  • The end of dozens of other attacks on civil liberties - at last an end to Labour's most poisonous legacy
These are all great policies which will change Britain for the better and which every Lib Dem can be proud of. If Labourites could stick with their party after an illegal war which lead to the deaths of a million people and the most authoritarian attack on civil liberties in decades then I can stick with my party when we've done so much better.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Direct Action - where should we draw the line?

There has been a lot of debate recently about the so-called Siege/Battle/Occupation of Millbank and whether the violence was a good thing or not. Some argue that it was good because it brings publicity and others that it was bad because it was illegal, resulted in the injury of innocent people and brought massive negative publicity to the cause, overshadowing and damaging our very good arguments. I'm firmly in the latter camp as my article here indicates.

Now, don't get me wrong, direct action can be brilliant and is often a vital tool in drawing media attention to causes which would otherwise be ignored. A stunning recent example of this was the Vodafone Protests which brought a previously ignored issue into the public eye.

However, what happened at Millbank on Wednesday was disgraceful. Innocent businesses had their offices destroyed, ordinary office workers were terrified out of their wits, at least eight people had to go to hopsital due to their injuries and there are reports about of a young man having suffered brain damage after being hit by a brick (I've been unable to find a source for this but will update if I find one) *update* it appears that this story was false as the BBC has said that no one was seriously injured. The media has focused mainly on the violence and the arguments over increasing tuition fees have been sidelined.

But, instead of the violence let's imagine this had happened instead. Towards the end of the protests NUS stewards lead students into the lobby of Millbank Tower where they stage a sit-in, completely blocking the lobby and the courtyard whilst other students lock arms and form a symbolic wall around the entrance, waving placards denouncing the increases in tuition fees. A few yards up the road the rest of the protesters listen to speeches before dispersing peacefully. The sit-in continues for several hours, drawing mass media attention as sutdents continue their sit-in until late at night. The evening news is dominated by coverage of the thousands of students in and around Millbank while Newsnight goes ahead as planned with it's debate over the increase in tuition fees.

A lovely picture isn't it? Obviously it was never going to happen, there were too many people in the crowd out to cause trouble and it would have been impossible for so few NUS stewards to maintain discipline amongst such a large crowd. But if it had been pulled off imagine the positive attention it would have drawn to the cause instead of the dozens of negative editorials, opinion-pieces and letters to the editor that we have seen instead.

Gandhi showed that the powerful of peaceful protest could liberate a nation of hundreds of millions of people - I'm sure we can achieve the far simpler goal of stopping tuition fees with the same methods.

An account of the demonstration against tuition fee increases

This is a cross-posting of an article I wrote for Liberal Democrat Voice

I was at the tuition fees protest as one of the Lib Dems who had agreed via Facebook to march together at the demonstration. Amongst the (inevitably violence dominated) coverage of the protests, I decided that I would like to give my impression of what occurred for the benefit of those who did not attend.
For me the protest began at 9.30am by boarding a Student Union organised coach to London from the University of Surrey. There were about 100 of us in total from Surrey and the general feeling on the coaches was upbeat as we gave our names and phone numbers to the Union organisers and in return received a leaflet advising us how to behave and what to do if arrested. To pass the time on the journey I engaged in a lively debate with the tory sitting next to me about the merits of AV vs FPTP*.

When we arrived at the demo forming up point at 11.50ish I’d missed the initial gathering of my fellow Lib Dems at Trafalgar Square so as soon as I got off the bus, and had said hello to my local (LD) councillor who had come up separately, I made my way past the various university contingents, homemade placard clutched in my hand, as I tried to find the other Lib Dems.

Having made my way from the rear of the protest to the front and then on to Trafalgar Square, I was certain of two things. One, with my Lib Dem t-shirt, rosette and placard I felt highly conspicuous and vulnerable. Two, the Lib Dem group was nowhere to be seen and the SWP seemed to have newspaper salesmen everywhere.

Doubling back towards the rear of the protest, and frantically texting people who I knew would be there, I suddenly found myself hailed by the large friendly, unstoppable force of liberalism that is Martin Shapland, Chair of Liberal Youth. After scrambling over a railing and around some NUS stewards, I joined Martin and the rest of the Lib Dem contingent. Sadly we were relatively few (I counted thirteen of us at the start of the march) but there were enough placards and signs for three apiece whilst we bemoaned the fact that most Lib Dems who’d said they were coming seemed to have decided to march with their universities or to stay home.
As we waited for the protest to start a few other stragglers joined us, we chatted amongst ourselves and I took the time to admire the sea of purple placards that surrounded us. Periodically someone would mumble something over a megaphone and cheers would sweep through the crowd with us Liberal Democrats joining in with more individual cries such as “Huzzah!” and “Loud noise!”

At 12.30 the demonstration began and we began to move forwards in stops and starts. No sooner had we began, we stopped again while Martin was interviewed on camera and put up an admirable, on-message summation of our position on fees.

As we made our way past Parliament things seemed remarkably good natured with everyone seeming very cheerful and enthusiastic. Occasionally someone would mention something to us about Clegg or “betrayal” and we would respond along the lines that not everyone agreed with the leadership and the vast majority of us remained opposed to fee increases and fees in general. There was quite a lot of joking amongst us about the likelihood of being lynched by socialists and plenty of lively debate about one issue or another whilst one or two more people joined us, including a good friend of mine from Lincoln. Chants would regularly start up and die away after a few repetitions with my personal favourite chants being “No Cuts, More Sluts” and “Nick Clegg shame on you, shame on you for turning blue”.

Once we got past Parliament there was no more stopping and starting and we moved along at a decent place though we now had more exchanges with SWP and Labour supporters. At times it seemed like we would get separated from each other but we managed to stay together as a group via the “ducking and weaving through the crowds” method.

However, when we got to Millbank Tower we became aware that trouble had started. A small part of the crowd was breaking off into the courtyard whilst NUS stewards tried to motion people to go straight on. It was obvious that something was being burned in the courtyard where a lot of SWP and anarchist banners were present. There was no police presence that I could see and as we went past Millbank we could see that one of the windows had been smashed. Most people around us seemed appalled with several saying how stupid and damaging to our cause it was.

A few yards down the road the protest ended with a few speeches and videos on a large projector screen that I was too far away from to see or hear properly. After standing around sheepishly for a while we decided, in true Liberal tradition, to go to the pub.

As we headed back past Millbank it became obvious that the situation was getting worse. A police van was parked in the middle of the road while more windows had been smashed and someone was setting of fireworks. Unsure of what was being burned but certain that we would be unpopular with the protesters inside the courtyard, we decided to go past as quickly as we could – stopping only to gawp at the spectacle of a nearly naked man lying on a sledge being towed along by other similarly near naked men, one of whom was wearing what appeared to be an animal skin. A Druid friend of mine who was standing nearby reliably informed us that they were Satanists.

At this point we were all fairly cheerful and continued joking and laughing as we made our way towards a pub near Cowley Street though the conversation frequently turned to Millbank and the moronic nature of what was happening there.

When we reached the pub we decided that it might be a good idea to drop off our placards at Cowley Street so as to avoid scaring the landlord and to avoid drawing the attention of the bands of socialists who were amongst those dispersing from the end of the demonstration.

However, when we got to Cowley Street we discovered that the socialists had beaten us to it. A large crowd was gathered in front of the building with policemen blocking the entrance.

Sensibly, in my opinion, we paused out of sight to take off our Lib Dem t-shirts and to lower our placards to our sides. We then dashed across the street, led once again by the redoubtable Martin Shapland, to the back entrance of Cowley Street. Unfortunately, when we got there we discovered than the entire road had been blocked by police vans with policemen there to prevent anyone going through which, it turned out, included us. The production of our membership cards was to no avail and we were forced to beat a retreat. We dumped most of the placards next to a pile of rubbish bags on the street corner and made our way to the pub, discussing the multiple failings of Nick Clegg en route.

The pub, for me, was where the protest ended, but whilst there we read in dismay as reports came in on twitter and on news websites that protesters at Millbank had stormed the building, set fire to it, climbed on to the roof, and that people had been injured by shattered glass. As one person remarked “this is all the coverage will be about now, the violence will overshadow everything.” I believe a few expletives were then added but I will not repeat them here.

For me, the day ended in a cafe bar in Waterloo station with three friends, one old and two new, but for some unfortunates it ended by being treated for injuries caused by the items thrown from the Millbank Tower roof and, at time of writing (11pm) there are still about a dozen protesters in the Millbank Tower.
So, to summarise. This was a peaceful protest, with tens of thousands of students from all over the country turning up to voice their opposition to tuition fee increases. Most of us made it there safely (barring the Lincoln coach that collided with an unmarked police car on the way down) and most of us made it home safely. But a small minority of anarchists, the majority of them non-students, started trouble at the Millbank centre that drew in others (about a thousand out of fifty thousand protestors overall), some of whom I would characterise as naive idiots who thought it would be fun to burn placards and smash windows.

The day ended in violence that has marred the entire demonstration and seriously damaged our message. Already the tory press has ground into gear, commentators berating ungrateful, spoilt students and violent, immature anarchists. Those who started the violence are no friends of students. Driven by rabid anti-tory hatred they destroyed property (some of it belonging to completely politically neutral companies) and caused the injury of dozens of innocent bystanders. This will hang over the anti-fees campaign for weeks if not months and will make our work so much harder.

But that is not the whole story. The trouble at Millbank continued for hours before the riot police were sent in and if they had properly protected the building in the first place (like they did at Cowley Street) the violence would never have happened. Similarly, I feel that students like myself are partially responsible for not telling the troublemakers to f*** off before it was too late.

That said, there is much to celebrate but we will have to fight over the next few days to ensure the true message of the demonstration is not lost and we will all need to be vigilant at future protests to ensure that the violent minority does not have the chance to ruin things again.

*We also entered into a coalition to try and open the ash tray to put our chewing gum in but the coalition broke down in failure...