The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Friday, September 30, 2005
He said what?
By Peter

You think you've heard it all and then you read this in the morning Guardian and spill your coffee all over the toast:


"I don't think that the traditional law can give law-abiding people adequate protection. We are trying to fight 21st-century crime - antisocial behaviour, drug-dealing, binge drinking, organised crime - with 19th-century methods as if we still lived in the time of Dickens," Mr Blair said in his Labour conference speech.

Where was he educated? Fettes and Oxford wasn´t it?

Well you one can understand feeling strongly about binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour at the end of a party conference. But does our Prime Minister really believe that antisocial behaviour and binge drinking are 21st-century crime ? Doesn´t he think such problems existed in the London of Charles Dickens?
posted by Apollo Project @ 1:44 pm   2 comments
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Hobson's Choice?
by Jabez Clegg

Oh dear. It seems that some correspondents to the Independent can't distinguish between the means and the ends. Luckily Johann Hari is there to put them right. It is possible to have a Health Service free at the point of use that delivers better patient outcomes by using diversity of provision.

Johann Hari coming over all liberal? Now that's not something you see every day ...
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:11 pm   0 comments
One more heave...
By Peter

"One more heave" was the Liberal slogan in October 1974. Now the Tories are being warned against adopting it in 2009. Writing in Public Finance Philip Johnston points out that

In 2005, Labour lost a number of seats that it had taken from the Tories in the 1990s, but they went to the LibDems. After 2001, the Conservatives were in second place in 356 seats, but after May this year, they are second in only 269 constituencies. In other words, should Labour falter at the next election, the LibDems are as well placed as the Tories to pick up the seats.
Moreover, at the May election, the Conservative proportion of the poll fell in Labour-held seats, as it did in every sub region of the Midlands and northern England. The party came third among voters below the age of 34. In the major cities and towns, in Scotland and Wales, the Conservatives are either unrepresented or have established only a precarious toehold. Deciding to just hang on in there, in the hope that the political pendulum will swing inexorably back in their direction, would be a mistake of historic proportions.


Of course, there is better news for the Tories later in the article, but Lib Dems who stick with it to the end will get their reward.

So there are plenty of rocks and concealed reefs out there for the Tories, but it isn´t going to be plain sailing for Lib Dems. We need to establish our credibility on the economy. In the bad old days, this was always our weakest card. (Who will forget that disastrous moment when Michael Meadowcroft told a journalist that "Liberals weren´t interested in economics"?).

While the Tories are busy choosing their leader, Liberal Democrats have a window of opportunity in which they can - metaphorically - seize the Front Bench. We need to spend that time being interested in economics.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:10 pm   3 comments
By George, I think they're getting it!
by Steve Travis

First Andrew Rawnsley, then The Daily Telegraph; now George Trefgarne gets in on the act. And what's that? Why, following the lead that The Apollo Project has set, of course!

Trefgarne's article looks at the pehnomenon of hedge-fund managers, and why, despite what one might think, they aren't all Tories. One prevalent manager, Paul Marshall, is a big supporter of the Lib Dems and, with David Laws, a co-editor of and contributor to the (in)famous Orange Book. Laws and Marshall are well known Lib Dem "modernisers"; but they also have links to prominent Tory modernisers too. As a result, he makes this point:

Now you might ask, why don't the modernisers everywhere just get together with the backing of those hedge fund millionaires and form a new party to save us from the terror of a Labour fourth term? You would not be the first to think that. Francis Maude, the Conservative chairman, has even raised the possibility of a coalition with the Lib Dems.

It's pleasing to note that we made a similar point a few weeks ago, when we said:

[W]e are left in the situation where a broadly Liberal programme potentially has widespread support, but that that support is spread across three parties fighting each other tooth and nail ... Would that we had a political system that was mature enough to allow co-operation across party boundaries in pursuit of common ideals.

Liberals of the world unite! (As Marx might have put it).
posted by Apollo Project @ 12:32 pm   6 comments
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Playing with Fire at the National
by Peter

I went to see this play for political anoraks while other Lib Dems were still enjoying the Blackpool nightlife. As theatre, I found it pretty disappointing. An unconvincing love affair and local poltical rivalries animate the plot - but not much. As an on-stage essay in the relationships between New and Old Labour, the white working class and asians, and central and local government it was worth sitting through. (I left my anorak in the cloakroom, of course).

The play seems to have been meticulously researched. The Independent fingers Oldham, Burnley and Bradford as the source for the events and I suppose that is correct. In the case of the Oldham at least, Labour have not had such a monolithic hold for a good while - but in the theatre northern industrial areas are always ruled by Labour majorities of the type you get in Doncaster.

David Edgar's sympathies are fairly evident, but the first half of the play is quite evenhanded. One sees the New Labour predicament on centre/local relations. Their electorate - the people they wanted to help - are saddlled with inept local authorities which spend too much and achieve too little. Even though their own party ran them, somethng had to be done. Northern cities could not be left in the grip of Old Labour. So they send in an expert.

Slowly this unleashes a chain of events leading to a race riot (white businesses burned in asian areas, asian businesses burned in white areas), the election of BNP-type councillors, and a renegade Labour councillor as directly-elected Mayor, on a white's-rights platform.

Suspension of disbelief becomes difficult at this stage - not about what is happening, but at why things are meant to be happening. Events and motives are over-determined throughout the play and the characters are generally stereotypes. (The band playing the wedding reception at the height of the riot make a heavy-handed but refreshing exception). Edgar's thesis seems to be that if central government had kept out, then things could have gone on in the old way. Useless, racially segregated through the old whites-only council estates, but not exploding. Arguable, of course, but not convincing.

For me the play asked more questions about (Old) Labour breeding dependency and diminishing the aspirations of their core supporters. Clearly the economic context (the mills have closed in Wyverdale, textile production has gone to Bangladesh and China) plays a big role. But Old Labour must share the blame.
And the play does shed light on (new) Labour's conversion from relative liberalism (incorporating Human Rights into British law) in the first term, to relative authoritarianism (suspending them, and promoting the ID card as the solution to. well, just about everything) in the second term. We don´t know how this story is going to end yet...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:00 pm   1 comments
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Perhaps we should style ourselves the Apollo Group collective...
by Jabez Clegg

...but that sounds so 1960s, doesn´t it? No, the Apollo Group is more of a virtual community - a group of Lib Dems who (for the most part) met on the net and see it as an appropriate means of sharing ideas and campaigning. We are a pretty varied bunch - aged from 17 to 60, with one MP, several candidates, and ex-patriates in four countries and two continents.

We don´t align ourselves with any particular wing of the party, but I think the general sense of the group is that the party needs to be aiming for government sooner rather than later (hence liberalism2010) and that this means more pragmatism in terms of policy and more ambition in terms of campaigning.

So the significance of Blackpool for a group of those members who post here (Phil -aka Book Value, Steve, Alex and Peter) was that we met each other in the flesh, along with a number of other Lib Dems who take part in the forum.

The growth of the forum as a medium for political communication is something that must be changing politics little by little. It is hard to see them replacing speech acts. But some of the motions on the conference agenda would have benefitted from scrutiny beforehand by a wide group of members - and where better than an internet forum. There are a few around these days - none livelier than the LDYS forum.

Now more of us have met I suppose we are less of a virtual community these days. But definitely not a collective...
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:08 pm   3 comments
Monday, September 26, 2005
Livingston by-election: déjà vu?
by Peter

I might easily be mistaken, but Jim Devine's latest outburst brought on a sense of déjà vu.

In the Sunday Mail the "would-be MP" is calling for a national register of drug-dealers. This idea is not to help you find one in a hurry (calm down), it is to allow potential employers to spot them before they sign them up to work as lollipop ladies or whatever.

This seems such a obvious idea that one wonders why some suitably populist politician hasn´t already thought of it. And it seems they have. The Criminal Records Bureau was set up in 1997, and their website points out that people who possess Class A drugs, or traffic in drugs will have their convictions held on the Police National Computer for life.

Perhaps it doesn't apply in Scotland, I thought. Sut a suitably detailed enquiry (sometimes known as "googling") came up with Disclosure Scotland which does the equivalent job north of the border.

But the big question is different. If, after such a long period of Labour domination, West Lothian has the drugs problem Jim Devine describes, then the answer is not to vote Labour once again on Thursday.
posted by Apollo Project @ 2:29 pm   0 comments
Friday, September 23, 2005
Party leader under fire...
by Peter

And just weeks before a pair of by-elections.

I´m afraid it's serious this time. Delegates are dismayed by the General Election results which fell well short of expectations:

The SNP increased its tally of Commons seats from five to six at the General Election earlier this year but its share of the vote fell, pushing the party into third place behind the Liberal Democrats.
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:41 pm   0 comments
Snafu's ten commandments
by Peter

Snafu is poking fun at us Lib Dems. I enjoyed commandments 8 and 9...

But it's "covet", Snafu...
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:25 pm   2 comments
Thursday, September 22, 2005
What are they thinking now?
by Peter

I don't want it, you don´t want it and they don´t want it.

But there are a few signs of realism in tory ranks about their prospects next time around.

The belief of some of those posting in their ability to split Lib Dems is belied by the success of Lib Dem politicians in Cardiff and Edinburgh since devolution. Still we need to work hard on unity.

Personally I wonder if there is a future for a party that tries to contain both the Tory Reform Group and Cornerstone...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:54 pm   2 comments
Potatoes to go with the meat
by Peter

Let me go out on a limb and say that I think it would be a good idea to ban free speech at Lib Dem conference.

I don´t want people to stop criticising the leadership. I don´t mind motions being referred back (refer'em all back, I say). I don´t even mind people making the same speech year after year. No. I would just like delegates to cease using the words "radical policies".

And this isn´t because I am against Radicalism. Rather the contrary. If Radicalism means getting to the roots of a problem (and I think it does) then I am all in favour of it. But sometimes the "radicalism" on offer is simply the sticking plaster writ large, or is the idea no government can implement.

And all too often we use it to mean "different from the other parties". Or even "so weird no other party will dream of putting it forward". Because we want to use policies for positioning, for product differentation. And this gets in the way of considering policies on their merits and in the round. We need to ask questions such as "will it work?" and "could the UK afford this" more often, and worry less about whether other parties are saying the same thing. We are automatically distinct on civil liberties, the constitution, and Iraq.

Of course we need some radical policies. Indeed we should always aim to treat causes rather than symptoms. But success in government - and in elections - requires a lot of boringly sensible policies to go with the radical ones. In the words of James Chard, "we need some potatoes to go with the meat".
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:41 pm   0 comments
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Lowering the temperature on tax
by Phil Grant

No clever headlines or striking lead paragraphs – this is going to be an attempt at cooling down.

Charles Kennedy made a very sensible observation on Monday regarding Liberal Democrat discussions on tax policy.
“I don’t think people are going to resile over the course of the next three of four years in the Liberal Democrats from the idea that the very best off in society should pay that bit more than the most disadvantaged in society for the same public services we all share.

“I would be flabbergasted if this party suddenly was to tear up that view.”

It would be an eccentric Liberal Democrat indeed who did not take the view that there are substantial public goods that ought to be funded from taxation, and that taxation should be progressive. Vince Cable doesn't believe otherwise, David Laws doesn't, and nor does anyone else from the "Orange Book" wing of the party, whether or not they have expressed an interest in the flat tax.

Cable, as it happens, has all but ruled out the flat tax, but even the standard flat tax package is progressive since it makes a substantial amount of income entirely tax-free, taking the lowest-paid out of income tax, and reducing the effective rate – if not the marginal rate – paid by medium-low earners. There are good arguments against it, but its advocates don't become bad liberals because they support it.

We'll get a more constructive debate from recognising the common ground we have.
posted by Apollo Project @ 2:14 pm   3 comments
Lamb lies down with Donkeys
by Jabez Clegg

Norman Lamb takes his conference defeat over the partial privatisation of the Post Office on the chin and pledges to work hard to adress the concerns of activists.

We welcome his continued enthusiasm in the face of considerable provocation - nil carborundum illegitimi, Norman!
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:28 am   0 comments
They Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside
By Lord James "Jimmy" Greaves

There must be something in the bracing sea air in Blackpool. Instead of turning up in a mood of celebration, as party chairman Lord Razzall had bullishly predicted at the weekend, delegates seem determined to block any proposal the leadership puts its name too. Plans to limit the EU budget to 1% of GNP have already been defeated, provoking headlines which are surely even now being readied for inclusion in Tory "In Touch" leaflets across the land. Now plans for part-privatisation of Royal Mail have been mothballed just weeks in advance of the next, and crucial, stage in the liberalisation of European postal services in January.

Delegates generally believe themselves to be protectors of the flame of liberalism throughout the land, and conference to be a celebration of the democratic ideal as the citizens at last drag their leaders from their ivory towers and confront them with some home truths. Nothing could be further from the truth. Delegates to all party conferences are, in the main, self appointed windbags with the time, money and inclination to spend a week at the seaside at a time of year when most normal people are getting their heads down for the long march from here to Christmas (often having spent their annual allocation of leave on the school holidays already). With the exception of a handful of the most vibrant local parties, those who go are simply those who want to go. Most just about know one end of a "Focus" leaflet from the other but few are the key "activists" that the press and delegates themselves like to claim. And it would be laughable to claim they are the party's brightest and best.

And what of the party leadership this self-selecting, self-regarding gang claims to seek to call to account? Many - with the exception of spokesmen in the Lords - have been severely tested and passed fit to serve by a serious democratic body, the voters of Britain, just four months ago. Most are highly capable individuals who occupy their positions due to their proven record of being able to argue their case and put Government ministers on the rack on a regular basis. All have to defend the party's chosen positions for better or worse day in day out to journalists, opponents and the wider public.

As he urged sceptical delegates not to shelve his Royal Mail proposals, Norman Lamb - trade and industry spokesman and one of a tiny handful of MPs of any party to boast a mandate from more than 30,000 genuine electors - said, "As a spokesman I need to be able to go out and say what the Liberal Democrats believe in." You can understand his point and sense his obvious frustration. Mutterings about Charles Kennedy's leadership have focussed on a perceived lack of leadership. A fair proportion of delegates - in contrast with the wider party membership and support base - too often give the impression of not wanting to be led.
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:41 am   3 comments
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Let them play Quidditch
by Jabez Clegg

(From the Telegraph). You read it here first:

Hogwarts-style school discipline backed

Proposals for a Hogwarts-style house system to boost discipline in comprehensive schools have been unanimously backed by Liberal Democrats.

Ed Davey, the education spokesman, said the system - which features prominently in the Harry Potter books - would help break down "soulless" comprehensives, giving schools a "village" feel and promoting a sense of belonging.

Creating "schools within schools" would promote better mentoring of younger children by older pupils and encourage pupils to identify with their schools and behave better.

Smaller class sizes, a more engaging curriculum and better pastoral care were also vital to improving behaviour, he said.


The proposal is backed up with tougher measures to stamp out violence in schools, allowing police to be involved immediately in cases of assaults on teachers by pupils or parents.
posted by Apollo Project @ 6:07 pm   1 comments
Liberal England and Liberal Wales
by Peter

Jonathon Calder didn't mention us. Peter Black did. We're now considering defecting to Liberal Wales...

Seriously Peter Black's blog, the blogs he mentioned, and some other essential reading will all be joining the links, well, just as soon as one of US gets around to it...
posted by Apollo Project @ 6:00 pm   3 comments
Aid not Trade?
by Peter

There was much to admire in the motion on Overseas Aid debated at Lib Dem conference this week. It called for successful conclusion of the Doha trade round - and that it is important. It also called for protection for Third World countries.

There may sometimes be a case for this (although it is hard to draw up a list of convincing examples). But it would have been worth recognising that it is through opening themselves up to world markets that India and China have begun to develope significantly. Even Africa has (according to theguardian) gained more from increases in commodity prices than from the G8 deal for HIPCs.

Next year perhaps...
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:40 pm   0 comments
Monday, September 19, 2005
A Liberal Future
by Steve Travis

Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg is interviewed in today's Indepedent, in an article titled "'The future of British politics will inescapably have to be liberal - with a small L". He underlines his liberal credentials by discussing NHS and Post Office reform, whilst saying that reform does not necessarilly equal privatisation. He also displays a refreshing honesty towards the position of the Conservatives in politics - that they cannot be wished away and we should accept and deal with that fact.

With MPs like Mr Clegg around there is a far better chance that the future will be Liberal with a Large L.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:27 am   1 comments
The Disloyal Observer Corps
By Jabez Clegg

We’re not sure whether Andrew Rawnsley is an avid reader of The Apollo Project, but his latest article shows he might well be. It chimes with many of the sentiments expressed here, and we note that Rawnsley thinks:

“These younger [Lib Dem] MPs have given up well-paid jobs and sacrificed family lives to come to Westminster. They are not prepared, as previous generations were, to settle forever for being third best. They are hungry for progress and impatient that Mr Kennedy is not leading them towards power more quickly and aggressively. They are anxious that opportunity may not knock again.”

He then goes on to conclude that:

“That will mean taking some risks. It will force them to do something they have so often avoided. They will have to decide exactly who they are. Until they do that, they will go on failing the Shut Your Eyes [and imagine this Charles Kennedy standing outside Number 10] Test.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves when we said:

“What is clear is that clever, talented, relatively young MPs like Nick Clegg did not give up promising careers to spend life in permanent opposition. They enaged in party politics to see their ideas implemented. And not just watered down, piecemeal implementation by the other two main parties, borrowing these ideas for half-hearted electoral advantage - they have a clear philosophy and coherent policy portfolio that they wish to see put before the country and implemented in its entireity.

That requires electoral success, and the Lib Dems will only make the step from Guerilla fighters at the margins of politics to mainstream political operators if they behave and think like a government in waiting.”

So one cheer to Mr Rawnsley for sensing the Zeitgeist!

Elsewhere in the issue, evergreen Lib Dem-basher Peter Hain is calling us the New Tories. Unfortunately Hain can’t decide whether we’re a threat with little credibility because we “only” got 62 MPs at the last election, or some sort of neo-liberal spectre threatening the to end the current enlightened period of New Labour government. What we say to Mr Hain is "bring it on!".

We should, of course, remember that in his earlier days Hain was a member of the Liberal Students. Perhaps this explains his attitude towards us - converts to a new faith are often the most zealous in suppressing the old. It also puts us in mind of the behaviour of Monty Python’s Brian, when told he’s not Jewish but a Roman, and we can imagine how the conversation goes when he puts his latest attack before his party leader:

TB: So next time you go on about the bloody Lib Dems, don't forget
you're one of them.
PH: [In a fit of rage as he goes up to his room.]
I'm not a Lib Dem, Tony, and I never will be. I'm a Trot, a leftie, a
pinko, a socialist, I'm right-on, Tony. I'm a red flag devotee, and
proud of it!
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:46 am   0 comments
Thursday, September 15, 2005
The Vision Thing
by Jabez Clegg

Erin O'Brien over at Great Court has picked up on a recent Guardian Article by Nick Clegg MP examining the prospects for those contesting the Tory leadership election, and their potential impact on the battle between the Tories and the Lib Dems to replace Labour.

She argues that:

"There is a greater freedom of not being pigeon-holed into the ‘Government’ or the ‘Opposition’ slot that can allow the Lib Dems to pursue policies and to encourage debate on ideas that would otherwise not be immediately palatable to a party seeking to gain government. For me, the political prize is a third party that does not need to present policies, but can present ideas, and a party that does not need to fall to the nit-picking of costed options between government and opposition, but that can challenge the assumptions and logic that underpin those plans."

While there should be space in politics for people to "think outside the box", I cannot agree that the Lib Dems should operate in the way she suggests.

One of the charges levelled at the party is that its MPs operate in an ideological vacuum, and consequently behave like glorified County Councillors. "What are the Lib Dems really for?" goes the refrain from our opponents and the media. Too often the party has not known what it is for and has attracted people who are not interested in political power. This has shown in the past when our manifestos were prepared; they were disjointed, contradictory, and full of holes. They were also ripped to shreds when subjected to serious scrutiny, but when we had 20 or fewer MPs it didn’t matter so much. Now we have over 60 MPs, it matters much more.

The equivocal 2005 election result that delivered more MPs, but fewer than expected, has prompted a large-scale debate around that whole question, and the forthcoming conference in Blackpool will thrust it to the forefront.

What is clear is that clever, talented, relatively young MPs like Nick Clegg did not give up promising careers to spend life in permanent opposition. They enaged in party politics to see their ideas implemented. And not just watered down, piecemeal implementation by the other two main parties, borrowing these ideas for half-hearted electoral advantage - they have a clear philosophy and coherent policy portfolio that they wish to see put before the country and implemented in its entireity.

That requires electoral success, and the Lib Dems will only make the step from Guerilla fighters at the margins of politics to mainstream political operators if they behave and think like a government in waiting.

We need to identify a coherent, sound, tested vision of what we stand for and design a policy platform around it - then convince the British people of its fitness for government. Party politics is about achieving power and using it to implement policies that we believe will be better for the country; members who fight shy of this idea should join a debating society or pressure group.

Lets leave muddled thinking in the past where it belongs – sharp, consistent policy is the way forward.
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:44 pm   1 comments
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
"Muscular Liberalism" revisited
by Peter

We raised the banner for Muscular Liberals a few weeks ago, in light-hearted vein, seeking to call up the spirit of Arnold rather than Truman. And now Madelaine Bunting has put the phrase to use in an article in theguardian (as we now must call it).
Simon Mollan pulled this to bits on his blog. He makes some good points, in seeking to distinguish between Islamists and muslims. But Bunting made some good points too.
Because it is certainly true that Huntingdon's "clash of civilisations" thesis now has a baleful influence over world politics. The risk always was that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Who is going to argue that it hasn´t?
The muslim world is full of problems. Some involve the interaction of that culture with its neighbours (Chechnya, Bosnia, Palestine). Some are internal (the Ummah has a duty of solidarity, yet the Muslim world contains both the fantastically wealthy and the miserably poor). But Huntingdon's thesis, in its dumbed down, tabloid version encourages us to reduce the issues to the simple equation that the problem is none other than Islam. And there are many groups out there happy for us to see things this way.
Huntingdon forms part of the intellectual background to current attempts to spread democracy by force and cultural values by imposition. Liberals (even Muscular Liberals) should resist this temptation. John Stuart Mill warned that representative government required the commitment of the people concerned. Attempts to create democracy from the outside are not just useless, they are dangerous. Dialogue with the muslim world is necessary: tutelage is not desirable.
So Bunting deserves a more sympathetic reading that Simon allows. My - trivial - complaint would be her use of the phrase "Muscular Liberals". She obviously means "Christopher Hitchins". Why didn´t she just say it?
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:39 pm   7 comments
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Mr Duff's complaint
by Jabez Clegg

Simon Titley gave a sympathetic hearing to Chris Davies on the conference motion on EU Finance. Now Liberal Democrat News carries a heartfelt article from Andrew Duff MEP.
Duff writes that "...conference will be asked to support maintaining a cap of 1% of GNI on EU spending, regardless of poltical purpose. Embarassingly, today's ceiling stands at 1.24%, and a cut of such savagery as the party's establishment proposes would mean the certain end of all EU social policy, regional development and R&D financing in the UK".
It is worth subjecting all this to scrutiny.
The cap/ceiling refered to is that provided by the EU's Own Resources Decision, setting the maximum amount that can be asked of the Member States. It is true that this stands presently at 1.24% of GNI.
Duff appears to imply that all the current cap is actually spent. This is not the case. Between the own resources cap and actual spending come a series of mechanisms that tend to reduce actual spending. As a result the 2004 Financial Perspective Headings for payments (limiting the amount the EU will actually spend on individual categories of expenditure) was set at 1.08% of EU GNI and 2005 headings at 1.06% of GNI.
But the annual budget was set at a lower figure (€105 billion), and, inevitably, not all the budget was spent. So final payments amounted to €100 billion in 2004. This (consults back of envelope) amounts to 0.97% of EU GNI.
Anyone involved with Structural Funds financing in the UK will be aware that many of the projects put forward for EU funding are put forward retrospectively: activities that were carried out without the promise of EU support are reclassified as Structural Funds spending. Why? Because the European Commision already finds it hard to spend all the money in the budget (and when they fail to spend it all, MEPs moan),
Reducing the cap on own resources to 1% would certainly make life more difficult for the Commission (which might actually become constrained by the budgetary framework) but would not necessarily lead to big real term cuts. It would require the Commission to develop much more flexible funding mechanisms. This would be welcome. In practice it is costly to receive EU funding, which comes with many strings in terms of procedures and accounting.
Duff claims that this would lead to the end of all R&D and Structural Funds spending in the UK. There does not seem to be any basis for the first argument. The UK is a reasonably large player in R&D and would continue to receive funding on any foreseeable distribution. The second argument, on Structural Funds spending, is more difficult to deal with, as it depends on all the subsidiary agreements made in the context of a budget deal. There is no correct answer at present.
The Commission's current proposals involve a great deal of Structural funds spending over the 2007-2013 period taking place in richer Member States, such as the UK. Liberal Democrats from Cornwall and the Highlands might appreciate this. But it would be in the best traditions of the party to support a reallocation of expenditure to focus it on the newer, poorer Member States. These could have a better deal even with a significantly smaller budget.
A final thought. Many of us are enthusiatic about the EU. That is seldom because of the way it spends money.
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:47 pm   0 comments
Monday, September 12, 2005
Livingston by-election: SNP statistics
by Peter

One of the benefits of a Scottish by-election is to remind one what an interesting bunch the SNP are.

Their approach to statistics is particularly interesting. Apparently their platform is now based on preaching the benefits of cheap oil. And according to the SNP residents of Livingston pay more for their fuel than the rest of the UK.

This may be true - but the SNP don´t seem to have any sensible evidence. Their survey is of just 12 stations "in and around the Livingston constituency" showing an "an average pump price for unleaded of 95.1p and 97.7p for diesel (while) [t]he UK average yesterday was 94.6p and 97.3p."

So the extra burden in Livingston is, according to the SNP, just half a per cent more than the UK average (making their rhetoric rather over the top). But in any case a sample size of 12 stations is hardly sufficient to establish that there is any difference at all.

The SNP do not give a source for the UK average figure quoted. One would expect this to be the average cost of a litre sold, rather than the average cost at all UK stations. If so (and until they publish their sources we can´t check) the comparison is completely bogus. Their figure would need to be weighted to take account of the different quantities sold at different stations. Sensible Livingston motorists will buy most of their fuel where it is cheapest - just like motorists do in the rest of the UK.

Not that their offer to the electorate is all that exciting. All they suggest is to exempt future increases in fuel prices from VAT. On their figures this would currently be worth around 33p a week to local motorists. It isn´t clear that this will have Livingston voters queuing at the forecourt.

Elsewhere they are suggesting that:

"Livingston is a two horse race and only the SNP can beat Labour. The other parties can only get in the way."

This isn´t the obvious way of describing a seat where the gap between Labour and SNP was nearly 30%, and the gap between SNP and Lib Dem Charles Dundas just 6%. But no doubt they have their reasons. And as we have seen, they always do their statistics differently in the SNP, not just when constructing barcharts. But an iron law of UK politics is that only Lib Dems get criticised for their barcharts. So this is just an observation!
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:06 pm   5 comments
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Livingston and Cathcart by-elections: smears and spin
by Jabez Clegg

The Times is running a piece on the two Scottish by-elections. Labour Smear fights SNP smear, but check out the final paragraph for some Labour spin.

If you work on the basis that what Labour will be saying to the Times about their fears is the exact opposite of what they really think, then the conclusion seems to be that Labour are most worried about the Lib Dems and about Livingston.
posted by Apollo Project @ 4:46 pm   1 comments
The New Cobdenites
by Peter

Some weeks ago we called for Liberal Democrats to go back to Cobden in renewing their internationalism. The Globalization Institute shows a suitable respect for the great Radical, and this post offers interesting statistical support for his views. An open economoy really does seem to preserve international peace.
posted by Apollo Project @ 4:21 pm   1 comments
Two cheers for the TUC
by Jabez Clegg

According to the Observer, TUC leaders want Blair gone in the next year, and are not convinced that Brown is the right man to follow him. We're with them so far…
posted by Apollo Project @ 4:10 pm   1 comments
Thursday, September 08, 2005
A nightmare I'm trying to wake up from...
by Jabez Clegg

We know they don´t work. Now the PAC wonder if they could ever work.

Perhaps this is the point. Perhaps clunky tax credits are so difficult to claim to give every recipient ample opportunity to thank St Gordon.
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:52 am   1 comments
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Opponents and enemies
by Jabez Clegg

There is an old story of a young newly-elected Conservative MP sitting down in the Chamber for the very first time. Gazing across at the Labour and Liberal benches opposite, he muttered to his neighbour, a verteran knight of the shires that it was "good to get a sight of the enemy".
"Enemy?" replied his neighbour. "They are not the enemy. They are our opponents. You will find your enemies are all on this side of the House."

Was that young man Michael Ancram?
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:29 pm   1 comments
The Spy who led me
by Peter

The "Paddy was a spy" story has risen again – this time in the Mirror
(reported by Nick Barlow and Jonathon Calder).

This is a story that has gone around the blocks a few times, perhaps because Ashdown has never denied or confirmed the story. But two explanations have been offered for what Ashdown was doing in Geneva in the 1970s. The other story was that he was in charge of the library at the British Delegation. And few Liberals believed that version…
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:16 pm   0 comments
Friday, September 02, 2005
Reasons to be cheerful...
by Peter

It has been a rough week. But here are some reasons for Lib Dems to be cheerful.

1. Labour are giving Lord Haskins an ASBO, and telling him he can´t sit with them anymore. Surely our chaps could offer to budge up a bit? (But first Haskins will offer the excuse that Lady Haskins wrote the cheque.)

2. Labour will have even more space on their benches as Lord Watson pleads guilty to playing with matches (but what was Blair doing in Iraq?). This will lead - apparently - to a by-election in Glasgow Cathcart (aka known as Glasgow South.

3. The Tories may be on the verge of electing David Davis as Leader. Or Ken Clarke. Or David Cameron...

4. For at least another week, England will be leading in an Ashes series...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:22 pm   0 comments
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Liberal Principles - Part 2
by Jabez Clegg

First, I have a confession to make. The article Liberal Principles – Part 1 posted recently was not all my own work. Shocking to relate, but it was copied (with a couple of slight snips to remove indications of its provenance) from the Aims and Values of the Tory Reform Group. By so doing, I achieved my purpose - which was to see whether anyone would recognise from whence it came.

That it was not obviously a Tory programme raises some questions. First, look at the nature of the programme itself. Notwithstanding some points about the nature of freedom by Bishop Hill and Patrick, contained in the comments to this first article, it offers a set of values and principles that many Liberals would not feel too uncomfortable with, to say the least. In some respects this is not surprising, for the TRG remains unashamedly on the left of the Tory Party, and is good evidence for the way that the heritage of the Liberal Party was appropriated by the Conservatives in the middle years of the Twentieth Century following the Liberal Schism.

So who are the TRG? Their website lists Ken Clarke as their president, with active support from MPs David Curry, Stephen Dorrell, Damian Green, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Sir George Young. Given Clarke’s entry into the Tory leadership race, on the face of it this represents a problem, to say the least, for Liberal Democrats. The Tories’ inability to break out of their 30-33% box of support has largely been about the desertion of the sort of centre-right voter they used to have sewn up, first to New Labour, but also increasingly to the Liberal Democrats. With Clarke at the helm and Rifkind in a prominent position on his Front Bench, so the dream scenario goes, the Tories would now be free to tack leftwards and hoover up the floating voter grown tired of Tony and too cautious for Charlie.

Yet before we get too excited at this peospect, let's examine how representative TRG views are of the present Conservative Party, and how likely they would be to prevail even in the unlikely circumstances that Clarke manages to win the leadership election.

The old adage about “judging a man by the company he keeps” holds true in these circumstances. We already have evidence that Ken is prepared to trim his views to help ensure his candidature is more palatable to his colleagues and party members. Edward Leigh’s Cornerstone Group boasts “at least 25 like-minded MP supporters”, considerably more than the TRG, and warns that We must seize the centre ground and pull it kicking and screaming towards us. That is the only way to demolish the foundations of the liberal establishment and demonstrate to the electorate the fundamental flaws on which it is based.

Elsewhere Lord Tebbit has put forward his opinion of what the Conservative Party stands for. Much of this flies in the face of the TRG’s internationalist, socially liberal viewpoint, and is in all honesty far closer to the views of the typical Tory member.

The core of the TRG programme could be supported by many Liberal Democrat and Labour voters, and not a few MPs. Yet it remains deeply unattractive to much of the Conservative Party.

Given this state of affairs, one wonders why the TRG have not begun to detect the aroma of fresh-ground Arabica. Political allegiances are often about more than policies, and it is perhaps no surprise that loyalties to a party should prove stronger than the realisation that they no longer stand for what you believe in. And perhaps TRG members calculate that under the current electoral system, it is difficult to make significant electoral progress from outside one of the bigger two parties. Yet, it is exactly this sort of One Nation Tory voter who is disillusioned with the current direction of the party who might be persuaded away, as Vince Cable amongst others recognises.

So we are left in the situation where a broadly Liberal programme potentially has widespread support, but that that support is spread across three parties fighting each other tooth and nail. The outcome is that we suffer in turn either from the Statist Labour Party, or else the authoritarian, socially conservative Tories.

Would that we had a political system that was mature enough to allow co-operation across party boundaries in pursuit of common ideals.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:00 am   2 comments
 
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.

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