The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Friday, December 30, 2005
Failing to Preach what we Practice
Via Jonathan Calder (see links)I´ve discovered the new and impressive Eaten by Missionaries blog.

Iain Sharpe tackles an intersting question (one that has been much on my mind in recent weeks).

I am often struck by the contrast between the bold and innovative approach that Liberal Democrats have taken in local government towards reform of public services, and the caution and old-fashioned sentimentalism that party conference shows towards the sacred cows of the welfare state.

This isn´t quite the way I would have put it. But I see his point.

When he says

Through its more successful local government administrations, the Liberal Democrats have developed an approach to reform of public services that is both distinctive and effective. It involves, among other things, commitment to effective service delivery, willingness to be flexible about who delivers the service, recognition that high costs don't automatically equal high quality and willingness to listen to the views of the users of public services.

I start to think we've found the man to draft the next manifesto.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:25 am   0 comments
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
by Peter

One of the issues Boyle deals with in Authenticity (see below) is the proliferation of targets. Boyle really doesn´t like these. He is rather strangely attracted to the idea of Management by Walking Around, but hates the idea of Management by Objectives. At one stage (page 210 to 211) he quotes Peter Drucker with approval for his condemnation of Taylorism, with out acknowledging that Drucker is - to a large extent - responsible for all this target-setting.

He's very down on counting

That's the great fear: that in the end those who think reality lies in the numbers willrecreate the world as if nothing else matters...if we only measrure success by Gross Domestic Product or the single bottom line of money moving through the economy then we also drive out all those things that can´t be measured.

Boyle equates the proliferation of targets with the recruitment of large numbers of accountants intot he public sector. There probably is a link - but he might be wiser to concentrate on the politicians. As far as GDP is concerned, it is pretty key to politicians: it tells them how much they can hope to raise in taxes. This matters enormously to them (it might well be good if it mattered less). At local level you used to see this with the fascination of local councils with initiatives that would raise the rateable value of their area (especially when the residents of the new developments would use the servies of a neighbouring authority)

He does quote Keith Joseph, though:

Sir Keith Joseph famously described his impatience to get his hands on the levers of power in the early 1960s 'only to find they weren't connected to anything'.

Michael Heseltine was - I believe - the piioneer in terms of organising management information systems into governemnt, seeking to follow the ideas of Drucker, and to make the civil service bureacracy more responsive to the wishes of Ministers. I find it hard to argue with this wish.

Certainly there is an issue with the number of targets around the public service now. This seems to me a sympton of the absence of proper accountancy/management consultancy advice at the appropriate level. The ideas in good currency in the accountancy profession these days would probably start with the conviction that you should not have too many targets. And I doubt if anyone has qualified as an accountant in the last fifiteen years without absorbing the ideas of Kaplan, summarised in the Balanced Scorecard. This puts some emphasis on "soft" issues such as Learning

The BSC / Learning and Growth perspective includes employee training and corporate cultural attitudes related to both individual and corporate self-improvement. In a knowledge-worker organization, people are the main resource. In the current climate of rapid technological change, it is becoming necessary for knowledge workers to be in a continuous learning mode. Government agencies often find themselves unable to hire new technical workers and at the same time is showing a decline in training of existing employees. Kaplan and Norton emphasize that 'learning' is more than 'training'; it also includes things like mentors and tutors within the organization, as well as that ease of communication among workers that allows them to readily get help on a problem when it is needed.

There is certainly a case for much more selective use of targets in government, and for health warnings on league tables (as we have mentioned here some time ago). But there is a baby somewhere in all that bathwater...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 6:27 pm   1 comments
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
by Peter

It's a book, of course: the work of Lib Dem guru, David Boyle. It features on the ConservativeHome reading list for moral Conservatives. David Boyle is someone you either love or like, and I am someone who likes him. I probably would not have got around to reading this book if not for the coincidence that, a few days after seeing it on that Tory reading list, reaching for a completely different book in a bookshop. I found it a few inches from my eyeball. I saw this as some kind of karma and added it to my shopping trolley (ie placed it on top of a sleeping baby in a Maxi Cosi - no, not on her face).

In between the seasonal over-indulgence, I read the book through. Perhaps at another time of year I would have given it a more sympathetic reading (but don´t bet on it - books don´t come to my house for sympathy, you know).

It is not easy to summarise the argument. Boyle himself says "I am only too aware that there may be contradictions in this". But his attempt is "People are simultaneously reacting against the artificial world they are forced to live in - much as they may enjoy some of it - and rediscovering the importance of authenticity".

What's it all about? Well, Boyle comes up with ten attributes of the "real". Real is ethical, natural, honest, simple, sustainable, unspun, beautiful, rooted, three-dimensional (think Forster) and human. (Just writing it down makes you realise how difficult it would be to argue the opposite point of view - although conceivably more fun.) The primary contrast is with the "fake authenticity of a brand name". This seems reasonable enough, although my inner contrarian could not suppress the counter-argument that, for consumers, authenticity is essentially a brand without a label.

The economics of the book includes celebrations of local business ("if you've lost your network of small shops, the chances are that most of the spending power of the community will be siphoned off...A network of local businesses means that local money is used over and over again in the vicinity, creating wealth each time"). It also includes some extravagant condemnation of busineses as such:

In the end the main problem is that companies just aren't real. They are legal fictions clawing their way to some kind of reality, yet undermining that process by behaving as if they have only have two dimensions. So often they behave like corporate brontosauri, blundering along as Anita Roddick says, unable to feel anything more sophisticated than greed or fear. They can´t because, like computer programmes they can only demonstrate what's programmed in...'A corporation cannot laugh or cry,' said David Loy of Tokyo's Bonkyo University...

I'll spare you the rest of the paragraph, but you get the picture. At times this book is depressing close to those American management books that have a neo-Miltonic approach to the oxymoron and amount to nothing more than advert for the inspirational (if expensive) seminars run by the author.

Boyle writes well on the marketing of "authenticity": I couldn´t help thinking he will be raking in some corporate dollars from those two-dimensional, greedy and fearful dinosaurs hoping (if they could but hope) to sell their products to the New Realists of whom Boyle writes. There is also a good section on Real Food. Boyle saw the cult of the tv chef as an indication of people's yearning for authenticity. This may be true, but Boyle is alive to all the contradications here.

Well that's enough for now - and more negative than I intended to be. I will write something in a day or two on numbers and targets (Boyle hates these too). In the meantime, although I cetainly got something out of the book, I don´t think this should be added to the essential reading list for Lib Dems. But let me know if you disagree (and David Boyle, if you're reading this, let me know why I'm wrong!)
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 6:21 pm   2 comments
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Christmas Past
by Peter

I didn´t intend to blog today, but it seemed worth linking this piece in the Guardian. I´m always a sucker for a few kind words about dear old C-B.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:45 am   0 comments
Friday, December 23, 2005
All I want is everything
by Peter

I've been meaning to reply to this post of James Graham for a couple of days. I´m not going to say much at present becuase, to be frank, the baby on my lap can think of better ways of spending her time than watching her father type. In any case, James and I seem to have resolved many of our differences.

All I want, of course, is everything: a great airwar, proper targetting, a party that grows its core constituency and yet reaches out beoyond it. Certainly a party that has a strong profile on the economy.

In short, I want my narrative, and a happy ending too.

In the meantime I´m going to see if this baby wants feeding or changing (or both). See you after Christmas. May it be Merry for all of us!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:41 pm   2 comments
Through the Green Window
by Steve Travis

Yesterday I had fitted a door with stained glass panel, commissioned to replace the dreadful 1970s monstrosity that had, in turn, replaced the 1912 original whose design I had copied. I think it only fair to give a plug to Lady Bay Art Glass and R W Taylor Joinery for their skill and craftsmanship, for they have created a work of art.

My distaste for UPVC doors and windows (mainly on aesthetic grounds) is already documented. But in conversation with the glazier, it was pointed out that there might be an environmental reason to be against them too.

Old window frames typically used natural soft woods which are highly durable and can last 1-200 years if properly painted and repaired. UPVC is an energy-intensive product that uses hydro-carbon in its manufacture, and can need replacing within two decades, not two centuries.

Yet what is even more thought-provoking is that double glazing may be, contrary to popular belief, very bad for the environment. A double-glazed unit again lasts around 20 years, whereas single-pane glass lasts for centuries. Glass manufacture is highly energy-intensive, and when a double-glazed unit goes it has to be replaced. It is, therefore, very likely that the energy saved in heating a house is offset many times over by that used in the manufacture of the unit.

So, when you see a skip outside a blank-eyed, replacement-windowed house, containing the smashed remains of original windows and doors, weep not only for aesthetics but also for the planet.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:51 am   0 comments
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Iraq elections
Rohin of Pickled Politics has a well-researched post on the Iraqi election results here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:25 am   0 comments
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Haskins on the CAP
by Peter

The former Labour peer Lord Haskins has a piece in the FT on the CAP, arguing that the Single Farm Payment provides a route for re-nationalisation. I´d like to think so, but I think this is rather optimistic.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:52 am   0 comments
Christmas Shopping: required reading for Liberal Democrats
by Peter

Within the Liberalism2010 group, we have been talking about the sort of booklist Lib Dems should be working through these days. We can probably take a few classics for granted:

Mill on Liberty and on Representative Government;

Locke's Second Treatise;

Milton's Areopagetica (heavy going though, in my view).

Some newer items might include:

Ted Halstead and Michael Lind, The Radical Centre;

F.G. Bailey, Strategems and Spoils: A Social Anthropology of Politics;

Alison Wolf, Does Education Matter?;

In order to follow the history of polciy discussion in the Liberal Democrats, one might want:

Jo Grimond, A Personal Manifesto;

Conrad Russell, An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism;

The Orange Book.

On Economics

Adair Turner, The Liberal Economy;

Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Discontents.

On liberalism per se, perhaps

D J MAnning, Liberalism;

John Gray, The Two Faces of Liberalism.

All suggestions for extending or refining this list are welcome! (Is Jonathon Porritt's new book worth reading?)
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:10 am   19 comments
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Restored Links
The links are coming back. Not all of them yet - but a good selection. If you are linking to us and we're not linking back then let us know. As long as you don´t advocate eating babies, we will reciprocate (I mean, we'll link back).
posted by Apollo Project @ 5:07 pm   2 comments
Tory Convert
by Peter

I've only just come across this blog. Here Tory convert explains her political philosophy. And interesting it is.

This comment is particularly appealing:

Conservative policies which I actually like? Well, as you know we are going through something of a period of transition in giving shape to our policies, so I can't be overly specific - I don't exactly have a checklist in front of me.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:54 pm   0 comments
First steps towards a land tax
by Peter

Here is a little early Christmas for SVTaxers out there: Public Finance examining the case for LVT.

There have that nice quote from Churchill:

"Roads are made," he argued, "streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains - and all the while the landlord sits still… He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived."

All very fine. In general you can probably get a lot of support for a tax on landlords (with a suitable exemption for buy-to-let people).

The test is whether the tax can be designed in a way that makes it acceptable to owner occupiers who are staying put. The odds on this are not so high:

Reform must creep, rather than gallop. The knock-on consequences for the rest of the tax system are to some extent unpredictable, and the Treasury will be aware that the political barriers are substantial. Those with expensive houses but low incomes, such as pensioners, could face higher taxes.

So something to think about. And please let us at Liberalism 2010 know what we should think about this attractive but tricky tax.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:43 pm   1 comments
Frosty welcome for carol singers expected
by Peter

I'd guess that carol singers will find that some people take a lot longer to open the doors this Christmas.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:34 am   0 comments
Monday, December 19, 2005
Unity (or Playing the Blame Game)
by Peter

Two pieces by Tony Greaves hit my desk today, his letter in the Guardian and his back page column in Lib Dem News (helpfully signposted "no backbiting says Tony Greaves").

OK I know that someone slagged Greaves off on this blog a few months ago. But it was not me, and I have got a lot of time for him on issues like the ID card. That said, I do not find this kind of name-calling very helpful.

Let's go through the letter:

Martin Kettle writes "centrist" when he really means "rightwing" (A botched putsch by people who yearn to be ministers, December 17). He writes "moderniser" (not a term Liberal Democrats use in internal debate), when he really means "Blairite".

If there is one term that Liberal Democrats tend to avoid in internal debate it is "rightwing/leftwing" (remember that fringe meeting with Adam Boulton in Blackpool). Modernisers, I hear all the time.

Of course we must stand on distinctive radical liberal ground

Indeed we must keep in sight the good old Radical tradition of Cobden - a stern free market man, who understood well how the State was liable to become a vehicle for the interests of the privileged.

Yet wait, apparently it is the other lot who are

Chasing Blair, Brown and the Tories back to the economic-liberal free market policies of the 19th century

At which point words seem to have lost all meaning. I cannot think of anyone in the Lib Dems who really wants to reinvent the nineteenth century. I can´t even think of a Tory who would like to do it. Drawing on that tradition, certainly. Going back to the Poor Law? I must have missed that fringe meeting...

I couldn´t help feeling that Greaves is outraged that someone else might be trying to unermine the leadership (and certainly one those who is is a recently departed member of our soi-disant radical wing). But I do not see any point in playing the blame game in public. And in internal party debate playing the ball (addressing the issues) rather than the man should be the rule.

Now if you would like to read something from a centrist, modernising Lib Dem, in touch with our radical traditions click here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:18 pm   3 comments
Tired & Emotional
by Steve Travis

Our internal disputes and disagreements have been well documented over recent weeks. But it seems we're not alone in this new fractiousness; Labour and the Tories want to get in on the act too.

We learn that the PM's No 2 and hitherto enforcer of his will, John Prescott, has serious misgivings about Labour's plans for school reform. And all this on top of Blair's defeat over 90 day detention. There is already a gaminess about this Government after a mere 7 months in office.

Not to be out done, over at Conservative Home the Davisites are very far from gruntled. In the comments section voices are raised that Cameron is on some "frolic of his own", lurching leftwards and leaving the mainstream membership high and dry.

We are still at least 3 1/2 years away from an election but, as is a strong possibility, no party gains overall control the conditions are ripe for a significant realignment of the main party coalitions, all three of which are showing alarming signs of friability.
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:26 pm   0 comments
Sunday, December 18, 2005
A busy week for the CAP
by Peter

We all dislike the CAP, but we are not all certain why. Rent-a-quotes who say this is because all money goes to "big farmers" or "inefficient continental farmers" should be treated with the same sort respect as those commentators who tell that rows int he Liberal Democrats are typically between ex-SDPers and ex-Liberals (by which I mean none).

The CAP supports farmers in about four principle ways I reckon:

most significantly it funds the direct payments to farmers based (since 1992 until now) on the number of cattle/sheep they keep, or the number of hectares they cultivate

second, it maintains prices above world market prices through import tariffs

third, it funds export refunds (allowing surplus production to be sold outside the EU and thus again keeping prices high)

fourth, it funds payments to farmers for "rural development" (wich can include "environmentally-friendly" but do not get excited dear reader, the condtions are not normally onerous and we don´t get a lot of enviromentalism for our bucks). (This is a semi-detached bit of the CAP).

All of these elements have been up for grabs this week. What has happened?

1. Direct aid is untouched. The EU budget deal did not touch the limits for direct aids, so farmers will continue to get the direct payments they have gown used to until at least 2013. (I believe that spending will hit those limits by around 2011, and at this stage farmers in the EU-15 will probably receive a little less than than in the past.)

2 Import tariffs are untouched by the partial agreement in Hong Kong.

3. But export refunds are to be phased out under the Hong Kong agreement

4. and rural development spending has been limited (at least in the old Member States - I haven´t found a clear expression of the impact of the budget deal to date).

The interesting point then is what will happen to farm prices. Direct payments are in the process of being "decoupled" (no longer linked to particular crops or animal numbers) and this is widely expected to reduce incentives to produce. If this is the case, export refunds would become unnecessary in any case. Against this, farmers in (for example) Poland may continue to expand production.

So the fight now should be to reduce guaranteed prices for farm products. This will restrain production (good for the envitronment), and thus ensure we are not faced with the problem of disposing, destroying or storing excess production. As a net food importer, this will be good for Britain. And as farmers have just had their direct support confirmed for the best part of a decade, they can hardly complain. Can they?
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 7:11 pm   0 comments
Saturday, December 17, 2005
by Peter

I passed an anniversary sometime over the last month. Twenty five years have now passed since I joined the Liberal Party. (I would have been a member longer, but in the days before internet if you wanted to join a party you had to find someone to pay the money to - and that took some doing!)

When I joined Steel was Leader. He was pretty popular with the electorate, although the Lib-Lab pact had not been. At the end of his period as Leader he was much less popular. The negatives built up as the years went by, not least because of the way Spitting Image made him a figure of fun.

Ashdown did a tremendous job in turning the party around in a period where it looked as if might just disappear. My favourite "what if" for that period is "what if John Smith had survived?" I certainly believe that there would have been a lot more yellow on the electoral map of the West of England.

And Kennedy has taken us further, after two election results widely seen as high water marks.

But I´m struck by the thought that in two and a half decades I've only had three leaders. I could have had as many in two and half years in the Conservative Party.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:50 pm   1 comments
That Cameron Website
by Peter

First things first: it really is quite poor. I do not intend to say too much about how and why, because I do not wnat to help them improve it. Let us just say that no one with any real interest in policy is going to be convinced.

As GDH argues below, if Cameron is to show that the Conservatives have changed, then he will have to to offer a few rightwing policies up, and a few rightwingers to go with it. I can´t see him doing this.

But in terms of linking policies, frankly I think we have something to learn. Too often our policies do not seem to link up. Our different policies seem to have been made by people with a passionate interest in one issue, rather than reflecting a coherent whole. We need to start showing how being a liberal viewpoint leads ssomeone to vote Liberal Democrat. That will probably mean thinking about how we make policy as well as how we present it.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:20 am   1 comments
Friday, December 16, 2005
The Cameron Conundrum
This post from GHD on Politicalbetting repays attention. If you're out there GHD, we'd like to hear from you!

As a new poster, but a long term watcher of this site, it is interesting to see the Conservatives on here wrestling with their beliefs to try and fit the outward appearance of ‘liberalism’ apparently being embraced by their new leader.

There is an interesting shift in British politics. After years of being on the backfoot, the word ‘liberal’ is the new buzzword. And defining it has become the battleground. Cameron’s shameless attempts to steal the word for his own create a problem for him.

Either Cameron has to take on the right of his party and risk losing the backbone of his party - the socially conservative, neo-classical economically inclined - or he has to water down his position and risk being exposed for a ‘charlatan’ leading to the ceding of lots of ground to his opponents.

Tony Blair showed, that when you set about to be a thief in the night, you must also make a theatrical show to the doubters or ideologically opposed within your own party.

It seems to me that Cameron may have made a long term mistake by throwing a bone to his right-wingers with his decision over Europe. He seemed to be saying to them ‘it’s alright’ nothing’s going to change and this is still our party’. But the outward rhetoric is all about ‘liberalism’. Already, posters like Sean Fear* appear to be getting the jitters. ‘Where is this taking us?’ is essentially what he is saying, and before long will this be what many of the other members in the Conservative Party will also be saying?

Cameron’s speech today showed that he is an unsubtle politician. He has gone for the ‘easy point’ by appealing directly to LDs who may have the jitters about their party, but in so doing has decided that he wants to fight the next election on liberal territory. Is this wise without having taken on his own party. In the long run he could find himself leaving his own party behind.

Tony Blair used his first weeks to win the battles in his own party. Cameron has used his first weeks to score cheap points with the other two parties. Will he live to regret that decision? And by making liberalism the battleground, perhaps we in the Liberal Democrats will be the long term victors.

Comment by GHD — 16/12/2005 @ 4:35 pm

*Sean Fear is a Conservative from London.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:10 pm   0 comments
They shall seek them in the hedgerows...
by Peter

All the attention has been on us Lib Dems (aren't we lucky?) but Cameron has stirred up some second order problems of his own.

Writing in the Times, Caroline Jackson berates Cameron for his policy of separating the EuroTories from their allies in the mainstream rightwing grouping - the EPP. She thinks

Mr Cameron will miss a wonderful opportunity to attack Tony Blair on the budget and CAP reform when he deliberately forgoes the opportunity to meet leaders of the EPP and their allies at their pre-summit gatherings. He needs to get to know people like Merkel, de Villepin and Berlusconi.

Her take on the alternatives to the EPP is amusing:

God knows who his alternative allies are. Aides are said to be shaking the hedges of eastern Europe: so far the only possibles may be Polish and Czech peasant nationalists, three eccentric Swedes, a French protectionist Eurosceptic, and two MEPs from the Netherlands’ extreme Christian party, which wants to stop Sunday bicycle riding.

Best of all, she finishes with a threat:

If Mr Cameron does withdraw the British Conservatives from their alliance with the EPP I am certain that he will be back again in a few years, trying to negotiate readmission. So whatever happens I intend staying with the EPP to keep the place warm for my party when it returns to its senses.

So Mrs Jackson may be on her way out of official Conservatism. Her husband abandoned the Tories under Howard. Losing one Jackson looks unfortunate, losing two would look like carelessness. Still Cameron will at least have shown his party that he is the true and rightful heir of Michael Howard.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:21 pm   0 comments
Avoiding the Fate of Poland
Over on, Stodge has written the following excellent analysis of our current situation which deserves reprinting here in full:

Once again, plenty for serious LDs to reflect on in the past 24 hours or so. We can safely ignore the mischievous comments from the Tory activists on this Forum who hope and pray that the LDs will collapse since that is their only route back to power.

On to more serious matters…I’ve been pondering the criticism of Kennedy, which has existed in the background ever since he became Party leader in 1999. Then he was seen as a welcome contrast to Paddy Ashdown - a comment I’ve made on here before is that parties often choose as leaders individuals who are in direct contradiction in terms of personality and approach to their predecessor. Thus, the Tories went from Thatcher to Major to Hague/IDS to Howard to Cameron alternating between youth and experience. Labour go from Smith to Blair to (presumably) Brown while we went from Steel to Ashdown to Kennedy. Clearly, there is a mood within the Parliamentary Party for a more dynamic, if confrontational leader. Kennedy is a genuinely likeable man and has been an excellent leader but with the election of Cameron, we have moved into a different era and the “hail fellow, well met, nice chap” approach won’t work anymore. It worked well against the messianic Blair and the cantankerous Howard but now a more dynamic, confident and less friendly (if you like) approach may be required if for no reason than to challenge Cameron and his cohorts.

What I am less clear about is where Kennedy went wrong after 2001. I think there was a short period in the summer and autumn of 2003 when the Tories reached the edge of the abyss. We will never know what would have happened had they kept IDS as leader - I’d love to know what Tory activists honestly think would have happened. However, sensible Conservatives (of whom there are a number) looked into the abyss and the serious prospect (which looked a reality after Brent East) that they might finish third in terms of seats and votes and decided IDS had to go. To his eternal credit, Howard achieved a considerable feat - ok, the election was lost but the Conservative Party as the primary party of Opposition was saved. The vote share was, in historical terms, poor as was the seat total (compare 198 in 2005 with 213 after the 1945 Labour landslide) but the Tories were still in the game and if they hadn’t completely seen off the LDs, they had prevented a far worse disaster.

I still believe Howard made a huge tactical blunder in announcing his decision to resign on May 6th but it has, in one way or another, turned out pretty much as he wanted with Cameron as leader and Davis eclipsed.

For the LDs, the failure to achieve in May 2005 that which seemed tantalisingly plausible in the autumn of 2003 was a blow not entirely offset by the gains from Labour. A principled and difficult policy on the Iraq War (in marked contrast to the awful policy gyrations of the Tories) was undone by what I consider a shrewd Tory ploy on immigration and some excellent campaigning in key marginal seats. The “decapitation strategy” failed, in my view, not because of LIT or a lack of hard work on the ground by LD activists but by the superior centralised camapigning efforts of the Tories which brought out the key 3-4,000 voters in places like Orpington and Dorset West who had abstained in both 1997 and 2001. While Tory doorstep activity was, in my view, moderate, the quality of mailshot literature was a quantum step ahead of the 1997 and 2001 elections - doubtless inspired by Lynton Crosby.

Still, for the LDs, 62 MPs and 23% of the vote was a strong result yet somehow we all felt disappointed. In the year after an election, a Party has the opportunity to reflect and change direction. That can either be done via leadership change or policy renewal. The Tories went for the former, Kennedy started down the road with the latter. It was always going to be hard to generate coverage during the summer after an election if you are the third party - nobody is interested in politics after an election. I don’t think being out of the spotlight for six months after an election is that bad - it gives a Party the time I mentioned for reflection and change.

What has changed this year has been the coming of Cameron and the fact that the Tories enjoyed a sustained period of largely uncritical coverage and a leadership election where some quite trenchant comments were generally masked or ignored. In the same way as the autumn of 2003 was the crossing of one rubicon, so the election of Cameron has proved to be another. There are a tiny minority of Right-wing columnists such as Kaletsky and Hitchens who have their doubts about Cameron but the mainstream Conservative press is happy to give him a free ride (and will continue to do so until and unless he stops looking like he can defeat Labour). I detect from reading a number of Conservative-inclined posters on this Forum a genuine, deep-seated loathing and contempt for the Government and a collective determination that they have to try to win next time and that Cameron, for all their misgivings about the true nature of his Conservatism, is the man they have to follow. If he wins them power, he will have their loyalty for years. If he fails and Labour win with a similar or increased majority next time, well, the Tory Party will be a most unpleasant place.

As you see, every time I talk about the LDs, I finish up talking about the other parties and that is the conundrum the LDs face. Rather like Poland before 1945, they have to co-exist between two powerful neighbours. When both are weak, they prosper - when one is weak, they can survive but if both are strong, they have a fight on.

Kennedy was the perfect leader for the scenario in which the LDs existed with a weak Tory or Labour party. His bonhomie was an asset and could draw away the disaffected but now both Labour and the Conservatives are stronger and we need a fighter. I’m not saying Kennedy isn’t a fighter - he is clearly - but he may no longer be what we need. That is, I think, the rationale behind the point we have reached as a Party.

I don’t share the pessimism (or joy) of other posters at our longer-term prospects. In many ways, it’s better to do this now and give the new leader and team three years to get the policies in position. I’m under no illusions that it will be a tough fight next time but then again it always is.

My hope is that Kenendy will withdraw over Christmas - that very action will help the Party - and we can swiftly choose a new leader. I think people on this Forum (especially those who aren’t LDs) overestimate the popularity of Hughes and possibly Oaten. I know what I’m looking for in a prospective new LD leader and there are, despite the usual barbs, a number of quality candidates.

It’s been a rough couple of days but transition often is difficult. Since all political careers (even those of Rik and Marcus)* are destined to end in failure, the art of politics is knowing when to cash in your chips and stop playing. Thatcher outstayed her welcome, Blair has as well. It may be that Paddy went about the right time and now clearly Charles is on the cusp of overstaying. Part of me, with hindsight, wishes Charles had stepped down before the Conference but then I think the most difficuly thing in politics is to know when to leave.

* - NB Richard Willis (Rik) and Marcus Wood were 2005 Conservative candidates in Sutton & Cheam and Torbay respectively
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:54 am   0 comments
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Charles Kennedy
by Peter

Should I post anything on this? John Hemming says he does not know what is going on, and he is a lot closer to the action than I am.

Charles has done a great job for the Liberal Democrats, surpassing the expectations of many at the time he was elected. He deserves to leave the leadership at the time he chooses, feeling proud of his achievements. Personally, I have never thought that he would be leader at the next election, and nothing that has happened of late has made me change my mind on that. (But I am a long way away from the action - and there are plenty of people involved in the Apollo Project who disagree.)

Having a new leader in itself changes little. With or without Charles, we need to sharpen our message, dump a few policies (go-karts for car thieves and porn for sixteen year olds), get closer to the electorate, and find new ways of campaigning. Above all we need to be trusted on the economy.

Charles made the right call on this after the election (even if we then back-tracked on LIT) when setting up the meeting the challenge process, just as he made the right call on Iraq. It would be fantastic if he could see this through.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:39 pm   0 comments
A re-reading of Boris
by Peter

Two texts, the first by Boris Moptop:

"But there is a third group, a minority, but a minority that possesses a characteristic human psychological deformity. They can't stand the pettiness of intellectual consistency. They want it all ways, and are capable of holding two mutually contradictory positions at once. Their policy on cake is pro-having it and pro-eating it, and they need a party that reflects them and their politically schizophrenic personalities.

That is why it is so vital that we continue with Charlie Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats and all their hilarious doublethink. There are not many Lib Dems in Parliament, but even in that tiny group they incarnate dozens of diametrically opposing positions. You want to know what the Lib Dem policy is on taxation, for instance, and you want to know whether they are for or against a 50 per cent tax rate. One half of your cerebrum thinks it is quite right that the rich should pay more; the other lobe thinks tax is quite high enough already. You are a perfect Lib Dem, a mass of contradictions, and your party supplies exactly what you are looking for."

(From the Telegraph.)

And this reformulation from the quaintly-named Charlie's Aunt:

"But there is a third group, a minority, but a minority that possesses a characteristic human psychological deformity. They can’t stand the pettiness of intellectual consistency. They want it all ways, and are capable of holding two mutually contradictory positions at once. Their policy on cake is pro-having it and pro-eating it, and they need a party that reflects them and their politically schizophrenic personalities.

That is why it is so vital that we continue with David Cameron’s Tories and all their hilarious doublethink. There are not many Tories in Parliament, but even in that tiny group they incarnate dozens of diametrically opposing positions. You want to know what the Tory policy is on immigration, for instance, and you want to know whether they are for or against foreign workers. One half of your cerebrum thinks it is quite right that the rich should be able to source cheap nannies and domestics from abroad; the other lobe thinks we are being swamped by scroungers from the Third World. You are a perfect Tory, a mass of contradictions, and your party supplies exactly what you are looking for."

(From Politicalbetting.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:32 pm   0 comments
Today's burning issue
by Peter

Ok arguably yesterday's...

Richard Allan has been asking why South Yorkshire Business Link would be getting money from the Common Agricultural Policy.

After sleuthing for some hours, I believe I have the answer. Part of their activity is the Rural Business Growth Programme, and this is co-financed by the CAP (presumably with Rural Development money). If you search around their web site you will eventually come across such unlikely success stories as the farmer who made use of a natural spring on his farmland and his bottling equipment for milk production to go into selling bottled spring water, and another farmer who made use of all those stables and a good supply of fresh straw to go into childcare (note to self - check details on this one).

At first glance, this seems to be the acceptable face of the CAP.

Pleased to be of service...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:31 am   0 comments
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Present Crisis
by Phil Grant

It emerges from Strasbourg that the Tory MEPs' convulsions over their future in the EPP are merely a smokescreen for a deeper issue.

It's Secret Santa. (Who said they don't live in the modern world?)

Surprisingly, the value of the gifts was limited to 10 euro. Perhaps David Cameron will intervene.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:23 am   1 comments
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The Importance of a Sound Defence Policy
by Steve Travis

Whilst on holiday in Australia I read the excellent "Tommy", by Richard Holmes. In it, I came across the following quote from Osbert Sitwell. Written in 1946, it discusses the impact of joining large continental alliances whilst only funding an army capable of fighting small Colonial wars:

Even today you see references to the immense achievements of the Liberal administration of 1906 - 14, but can any government whose policy entails such a lack of preparation for war as to make that seeming solution of difficulties a gamble apparently worthwhile for an enemy, and this leads to the death or disablement of two million fellow countrymen ... Can any government which introduces old age pensions, so as to 'help the old people' and then allows half the manhood of the country to be killed or disabled before it reaches thirty years of age, be considered to have been either benevolent or efficient?
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:24 pm   2 comments
Speaking in tongues
by Peter

I know it's an old-fashioned sentiment these days, but I can´t help sharing the views of Mr Matussek.

"Learning a foreign language at the earliest possible age opens up a whole new dimension for children. It greatly benefits their reading and writing in their own language and there's evidence that, like musical education, it contributes significantly to the development of individual intelligence; and it concretely improves overall results at school."

Professionally, I am regularly involved in recruiting and know how hard it is to find British candidates with decent language skills.

If you are serious about teaching your children a language then "earliest possible age" means before five. At this age the mind is best at coping with languages. Ideally you would have your children listen to the foreign language you want them to learn during their first couple of years - before they learn to speak.

This is hard to achieve without the aid of an au pair - so most people miss out.

I would like to see more children going to nurseries with a foreign language component. My Spanish nieces and nephews all speak good English because this is readily achievable in Spain. In the UK you need to look hard to find such facilities.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 11:24 am   0 comments
Monday, December 12, 2005
Breaking Eggs
by Peter

The dispute between Clarke and Cameron over the future of Conservatives and the EPP is the perfect excuse to revive stories about the Tory coalition falling apart.

But let's look at it from another angle: does it mean that Cameron is going to lead the tories into a position of being ultra-nationalist on Europe (thus keeping the "bastards" happy) centrist on the economy, and social issues? Such a position - communicated to the electorate by a fragrancy of Tory ladies - might prove a potent mix. Pure opportunism, of course, but popular.

Except, perhaps, with principled Tories - which is where we came in.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:59 pm   1 comments
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Stuck in the middle with you...
by Peter

The Telegraph has some upbeat coverage of Sir David Cameron's coronation. But even here doubts creep in

"Switching the focus from traditional fare such as tax and asylum to green issues, increasing the number of women in the party and improving inner cities, will form the basis of Mr Cameron's attempts to rebrand his party and face down the Right. But while this faction was notably quiet last week, it is naïve to think that it will remain so.

"Even at the height of the euphoria, there were hints of the tensions that remain. Minutes before Mr Cameron stood up at PMQs, an aide, the MP Nadine Dorries, appeared with a carefully created seating plan which would place women MPs all around him for the ideal television shot - a technique known as "doughnuting".

"But supporters of Mr Davis would not move. Andrew Mitchell refused to budge from pole position after his performance on the front bench at International Development Questions while Eric Forth insisted on sitting directly behind. The resulting image was of Mr Cameron sandwiched between Mr Davis and Mr Mitchell with Mr Forth in the background. In the coming weeks one suspects that the stalwarts of the Right will continue to refuse to be airbrushed out of the picture."
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:08 am   0 comments
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Template Update
by Peter

I think this is it. Thanks to Rohin, Paul and Valerie for suggestions, and Phil for rescuing the update when it seemed about to fail...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:14 pm   3 comments
Friday, December 09, 2005
Tory split
by Peter

You don't have to sign up to much during a Tory leadership campaign. But once you are in you find yourself re-appointing acres of deadwood to your Shadow Cabinet and then you have to do something about the EPP. what to do? Engage with the mainstream right-wing parties across Europe? Or go and sulk with some polish peasant and Alessandra Mussolini? Over at Thinking Aloud Paul thinks he knows where this is all going to end...
posted by Apollo Project @ 6:54 pm   0 comments
When good news seems like bad news
by Peter

This is surely the right response and the decision is good news.

But once upon a time we took it for granted that torture had no place in our legal system.
posted by Apollo Project @ 4:15 pm   0 comments
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
New template
We're thinking about changing to something like this. Let us know if you prefer it, prefer the Serious Black design, or what like something comepletely different!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:58 am   12 comments
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
New salesman, old product?
by Peter

That's the line Simon Hugnes is pushing in the wake of Cameron´s not unexpected victory.

And it's clearly a valid point, although I am not convinced that the electorate is quite as opposed to nuclear power as the Liberal Democrats.

There isn´t yet much sign of a Tory big idea, and other parties have already announced that they will respond by arranging a mass distribution of the Monty Python "Upper Class Twit of the Year" sketch (sorry - apparently that is not true).

There was a story that Lib Dems were using the leadership contest period as a window of opportunity to get their policies over - but I haven´t seen much evidence of this. And perhaps that is just as well. We have some fantastic policies on tuition fees, Iraq, and ID cards. We have a great frontbench team. But this is the time to be rethinking policies. Issue number one is to be sure we know how the economy will cope with continuing higher fuel costs.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:28 pm   1 comments
The first time as tragedy...
by Peter

A rather good post by Lewis Baston (biographer of Reginald Maudling) on politicalbetting sets out the parallels between 2005 and 1963:

I think there are some parallels between Davis 2005 and Maudling 1963, and that they’re more apposite than comparing Davis and Butler (Ken Clarke was the Butler figure this time, in my opinion, but far from an exact match - in his persona and policies there is something of Reggie about Clarke).

The task for Reggie at conference in 1963 was to remind the Conservatives why they had nearly univerally favoured him in June 1963 (if Macmillan had resigned over Profumo, Maudling would have been installed in a coronation) - his youth, modernity and successful policies. But, probably from over-preparation and a subconscious fear of success, Reggie fluffed it. The speech itself was not a bad one - it still reads very well. But it was not conference fare. It was a rather Brownian recitation of statistics, and failed utterly to pander to the conference mentality - he warned them that there was no room for tax cuts and concentrated on overseas aid and public services. Brave, but not what they wanted - a fighting speech to revive the mood after the dismal preceding year. Maudling fluffed all his applause lines and read it very boringly. Loyal Maudlingites in the audience leapt to their feet to try to stimulate a standing ovation, but one by one sat down in embarrassment. It wasn’t over for Reggie, but he was damaged after the conference failure. The Etonian, Alec Douglas-Home, was taken more seriously as a contender after a good, if pandering, speech. Reggie always despised the Conservative Party conference.

So, I think the comparison between Davis and Maudling is quite apt - both delivered their speeches badly and got the mood of the conference wrong (Davis by pandering, Maudling by not pandering). But Davis also committed an error of Quintin Hogg, with his exuberant (not to say vulgar) campaigning - the double-D’s and Randolph Churchill slapping ‘Q’ stickers all over the place did not impress.

This time around the Tories are in opposition. But if history is repeating itself, it's bad news for the Tories!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 11:54 am   0 comments
Who can do what when
by Peter

Colin Ross is among those arguing for a common age threshold for all activities at 16 (the age one can marry).

As I have said before, marriage at sixteen does not appear a great thing to defend. (In any case, isn´t parental permission required?). Nor do I look forward to seeing sixteen year-olds behind the wheels of HGVs.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:25 am   0 comments
Memo to self... something about the rainy-day money that has been sitting in the buidling socieity for years before someone takes it to use for a good cause.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:25 am   0 comments
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Leadership and Direction
by Peter

Lib Dems have been talking about these topics for a while. In the wake of recent posts and articles by Jonathan Calder, it is probably time to post something here.

Jonathan said

"I am not Charles Kennedy's greatest fan, but there seems to me no point in calling for his head. There is no obvious successor about whom I feel a much warmer, and it is not as though there is an agreed radical liberal programme that would sweep the country if only a Lib Dem would promise to implement it. Kennedy's muddling through reflects the party's thought processes only too well."


1. Leadership

I´m not Kennedy's greatest fan either (I voted for Malcolm Bruce), but I agree that there is no point in calling for his head. On balance it seems to me that Kennedy has done a relatively good job on policy. He made the right call on Iraq (thereby giving us a USP) and he has allowed the party to move in a liberal direction on economics. We haven´t got the sort of all round liberal platform that many of us would like - but conference must take a lot of the blame.

On presentation there are two schools of thought. One says that by seeming non-political we look refreshing and different to the electorate. The other school of thought is that Kennedy is not good at presentation. I have much sympathy for the first of these schools but am unable to dismiss the second out of hand.

Obvious successors? There isn´t one, and there are perhaps too many who would throw their hats into the ring. In the next parliament I think the choice would be between Clegg and Laws. If Charles were to stand down this parliament I should like the Party to coronate Ming for the next General Election.

2. Direction

Simon Mollan has used the phrase "policy masochism" to describe the weight of policies we Lib Dems burden ourselves with. And I have complained here about the "radical" fetish. (To save you the link I´m in favour of policies that get to the root of a problem (true radicalism) and unimpressed with policy tokenism (radical because different)).

What do we need to do? Become more liberal and more credible on the economy, a little more patriotic and realist on international issues. We need to redirect our offer away from grey voters and towards younger, more liberal, economically-active voters. And above all, we need to become opponents of the nanny state (all too often we have been proponents).

If we can regroup around a core liberal message, clearly-articulated, everything is possible next time around. Muddling through might get us through the next few months, but no more.

It is probably time to get organised...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:49 pm   3 comments
Friday, December 02, 2005
by Peter

Three assorted articles worth looking at:

a certain Jonathan Calder has a perceptive piece in the Guardian;

the excellent Pickled Politics has a good post (and debate) on the sexual politics of Harry Potter (don´t worry - you can read it in the office!);

the FT has a piece on the unreliability of league tables.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:17 pm   0 comments
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Posh Tory defeated
by Peter

With the anniversary of the 1906 general election around the corner, I've been wondering how many of David Cameron's ancestors lost their seats to the Liberal landslide.

Only one identified so far - Sir William Mount who was kicked out by the voters of Newbury.

But some entertaining reading from the Times and Yorkshire Post.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:14 am   0 comments
Centenary celebrations
By Peter

No - not our hundredth post this time. 5 December sees the anniversary of Campbell-Bannerman´s accession to office.

This is what he had to say about the government that had gone before his:

Tactics! Tactics! Ladies and gentlemen, the country is tired of their tactics. It would have been better for them if they had had less of tactics and more of reality. But they have lived for some years on nothing but tactics, and now they have died of tactics.

Read more of his December 21 speech at the Albert Hall here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:02 am   0 comments
The LD2 list: Top ten Lib Dem and liberal diaspora blogs in November
by Jabez Clegg

Here is the November list of posts you should have read. Lots of high quality pieces around in November - I was tempted to stretch the list - but these will keep you gong for a while!

Rather more Lib Dem and less Liberal diaspora this month too. Only one of the ten doesn´t declare themself to be a Lib Dem - and I have my suspicions about the new boy.

Here they are!

Simon Titley on class-ridden comments on the Blunkett resignation (a post followed by silence for the rest of the month)

Cicero's Songs (who is this mysterious 40 year-old investment banker with a taste for Hayek and Estonia?) on heroes and villains.

Ken Owen being moderate about coursework.

Jonthan Calder on the erosion of liberty.

Nick Barlow being simply pathetic.

Mary Reid on paying for coursework

Louise Alexander on brutal planning.

Stephen Tall getting bored with internal Lib Dem left/right name-calling

Simon Mollan on the politics of the radical centre.

Peter Black on voting in Wales.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:07 am   7 comments
The limits of internationalism
by Peter

Simon Mollan has posted an interesting piece on foreign policy. His starting point is Ming Campbell's Observer article on Iraq, and Simon's argument can be fairly summed up by the title of the post: trying to make political capital while failing to advocate action is no way to make foreign policy.

I had read Ming´s article myself, and in a more benign frame of mind than Simon. Okay, it is another trot through the reasons we should never have gone to war in the first place and this argument fascinates about 2% of the population and bores the pants off the rest (it did us little good in May). And I share Simon's general view that while this war should not have been fought, not all liberal interventionism should be tarred with the same brus). But not all political activity is policy-formation - a lot of it is salesmanship: Ming is surely entitled to rub some salt into NuLab wounds.

Nor would I go as far as Simon in advocating intervention. His (rhetorical)conclusion is that:

If being a Liberal Democrat does not involve standing up for liberal democracy across the world, wherever, whenever and however it begins to emerge, then what does it mean?

Well it depends on what you mean by "standing up" I suppose. If Simon means that Liberal Democrats should support intervention whenever liberal democracy appears to be about to emerge or about to disappear, then I cannot agree. I think one should only intervene when intervention is likely to be effective: idealism needs to be tempered by some Realpolitik.

Simon is on stronger ground (closer to my own views!) when he notes that:

The transatlantic alliance has provided the security architecture for Britain for the last half century, and provided the framework for noted instances of successful humanitarian intervention that, similarly to Iraq, did not adhere to UN imprimatur.

Iraq has been a ghastly failure. But it is not an excuse for ditching the transatlantic alliance. Nor is it a reason to conclude that any action has to be sanctioned by international organisations.

Lib Dems are too prone to be dewy-eyed about international organisations. Kennedy made a (generally good) speech back in July. Press comment focessued on his comments on the motivation of terrorists. But the bulk of the speech was devoted to setting out four Liberal principles:

1. To be pro-European and pro-European Reform

2. The support and development of the system of international law and institutions.

3. To focus on international development

4. To care for the global environment

Now this is an authentic strand of Liberal though (but by no means the only one as I argued back in August). It has us in ecstasy. But it leaves the general public (even journalists) cold.

Who can blame them? The UN Security Council is no haven of the elect. The run up to the decisions on Iraq showed us just how much members are influenced by national self-interest (aid dollars or oil concessions). The EU - still a good thing - is essentially a forum in which national interests are played out. Other Member States may accuse the UK of being uniquely nationally-minded. The truth is that we have simply been less effective at clothing our policy preferences in the appropriate language.

The tendency on Iraq has been to berate the US and its allies for being too immoral: only in it for the oil. There is something in this. Certainly within the US, oil seems to have been a factor in building support for the war. But the final judgement on Blair may well be the opposite: that he committed us to war on the basis of moral certainty rather than an evaluation of the evidence and the potential for achieving the desired outcome.

Liberal Democrats are going to need to expand their vocabulary. International organisations primarily provide a forum for the pursuit of national interests, and voters have a right to expect their politicians to play the game on their behalf. Simon is right to argue that there is a case for liberal intervention. There is also a case for liberal patriotism.

We should not shrink from making it. The simple truth is that Labour have not been very good at foreign policy - look at the EU budget dispute, look at Iraq. We can do better. We should say so - in terms all voters can understand.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:42 am   2 comments
Previous Posts

"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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