The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
That politics test.
Everyone is doing it so I did it too.

the good news is that I am an economic and social liberal Democrat.

The bad news is that their definition of "economic liberal" is not the same as mine.

But I wouldn't like to quibble.

You are a

Social Liberal
(76% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(31% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid Free Online Dating
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:41 pm   2 comments
Two sevens clash.
By Peter

Stephen Tall is responsible for this. Apparently if I don't carry on, then I will have seven years bad luck and all my cattle will die of thirst.


1 See my children grow up
2 Fight an election
3 Publish a novel
4 Spend a winter in Salamanca, Grenada or Madrid
5 Learn Czech or Russian
6 Watch every day of a Test Match
7 Walk the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean


1 Make tea
2 Drink tea
3 Listen to phone-in programmes
4 Watch a game of soccer
5 Enjoy christmas without gaining weight
6 Discuss operations and medical problems
7 Persuade Valerie or James to write something for the blog


1 The Shed
2 Cheltenham Cricket Festival
3 Tewkesbury pubs
4 The Forest of Dean
5 Village cricket
6 Bourton-on-the-Water
7 Odda's Chapel, Deerhurst.


1 Yes but
2 ¡Diselo tu!*
3 Aren't you ready for bed yet?
4 I agree with Graham
5 Peter Bray was innocent
6 ¿Qué sé yo?*
7 Is there a hurry?


1 Moby Dick - Melville
2 Requiem - Tabucchi
3 The Crying of Lot 49 - Pynchon
4 Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore - Calvino
5 Hard times - Dickens
6 Heart of Darkness - Conrad
7 La tía Julia y el escribor - Vargas Llosa


1 A Canterbury Tale
2 Passport to Pimlico
3 The Secret Agent
4 Down by law
5 I soliti ignoti
6 Ladri di bicicleta
7 Women on the edge of a nervous breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios)


Martin Tod at Resurgent Liberal
Rob Knight at Liberal Review
Mark Salisbury at Mark's World
Joe Otten
Dave Radcliffe at the 3Ps
Simon Mollan at Inner West Central
Stephen Glenn in Linlithgow

*my wife is Spanish.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:52 pm   4 comments
Monday, January 30, 2006
"I spied for the Kaiser," Tory's shock confession - updated
by Peter

The Courier (published by the firm responsible for the Beano et al) has the latest in a sad succession of tory revelations. Bearded Tory Leader Stuart Randall, arguably the most well known Tory in Fife, is quitting the party so

he could speak openly on the party’s poor management and what he called a “policy vacuum”

He went on to say

"It has been taken over by an incompetent clique, who can’t see past the next headline, and there seems to be no way for the grassroots to regain control.

"Decision after decision has been botched and wherever one scratches the surface, the whole edifice of the party is crumbling, yet no one really seems to care.

“Image is everything. There is a vacuum at the heart of Scottish Conservative policy, nobody seems to be responsible for where the party is heading.

More on (secretive) D C Thomson here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:30 pm   2 comments
Plymouth Hustings
Here's a report.

Meanwhile in the Guardian.

Chris Huhne suggested that his rival Simon Hughes was no longer a serious contender after coverage of his personal life.

The people I have spoken too seem more concerned about the way Simon has slagged off the people who worked so hard to get him elected in the first place.

The Sunday Times had some more positive comments on the campaign:

There is a debate in the Lib Dems, not spoken of by the media or even leadership candidates, about which course the party should take. It is after Sir Ming Campbell wins that a real battle starts.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:18 am   5 comments
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Something to smile about (2)
by Peter

The announcement that a former Conservative MP is joining the Liberal Democrats.

This is what he said:

David Cameron was the author of Michael Howard’s illiberal manifesto just last May. If he believed what he wrote then, how can he believe what he says now? And since he voted for the US invasion of Iraq, and has been continually Eurosceptic, what right has he to our respect for his international intentions?

I am supporting Ming Campbell’s campaign to lead the Liberal Democrats - who I joined last year - because I admire his consistency and integrity, and I believe his distinct radical liberalism would be a breath of fresh air in British politics.

The Campbell supporters list is now up to 767. Politicalbetting regulars will be pleased to read that to know that Icarus has added his name to the list.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:04 pm   2 comments
Something to smile about (1)
by Peter

What a week.

Rocked by scandal.

Finished as a serious political force.

It is hard not to feel sorry for George Galloway.

(Link via title)
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:00 pm   0 comments
The case for Huhne
by chrisk

My enthusiasm was only sparked when I heard Chris Huhne was going to stand.

The first few days of the leaderhip contest were predictable. Many Lib Dems, myself included, met the announcements from the obvious candidates with a kind of bored scepticism.

Chris is a unity candidate. He shows that you can be economically sound without being right-wing: he can help address our biggest perceived weakness without causing storms of protest from our activists. The support he's receiving from relatively left-wing members of the policy commissions he's chaired bears this out.

He's also not yet put a foot wrong. In the selection campaign for the 1999 Euros, he came third in the ballot of the South East region and was only elected to Europe because of the gender balance rules. By 2004, he very comfortably topped the poll. He held us Eastleigh in circumstances probably more difficult than those in many similar Tory seats we lost. And in recent months, as our shadow Chief Secretary, you'll have noticed him stepping up to torpedo Cameron's credibility as well as defending Charles.

A lot of people are impressed with Chris (including, unlike some other candidates, the people who've worked directly with him); his constituency nominations were the first in, in twice the strength necessary. Some candidates started their campaigns months ago; Chris Huhne didn't. Given the lack of prior stitching-up of supporters, the depth of Huhne's backing shows some genuine excitement about his candidacy, and not just in the South East.

And, before stories about sex scandals started to break, Huhne was close to setting the agenda of the leadership campaign; shifting the agenda to the environment in the first week, for example. This is probably why the odds have slashed from a 8/1 outside chance when he declared to much less now.

The only caution I had was that I hadn't seen him performing live in a high-pressure Paxman-style interview. But he handled the first Sky interview well and I think the more broadcast exposure Chris Huhne gets the more members will like him.

It's still early in the contest, and I think Huhne will be not so much a stalking horse but a sprinting one.
posted by Apollo Project @ 1:31 pm   4 comments
A Question for the Contenders
by Steve Travis

I would urge anyone attending a leadership hustings to ask a variant on the following question:

"It is well known that any group that operates in a competitive environment (business, sports team, military force, political party even) has to constantly re-examine itself in order to remain competitive, or else it will "go out of business".

For a political party one part of this process is to examine how its current policies align with its core values, and from the evidence we've heard tonight that process is well underway.

The second, and often neglected point, is that it needs to examine its electoral strategy, not its tactics (the two are often confused), and the way it is organised to deliver that strategy.

Can the members of the panel assure us that when they are leader they will undertake a thorough review of party electoral strategy, and ensure that the party's headquarters organisation is changed to reflect the most effective way to deliver that strategy?"

I attended a constituency dinner last night where Nick Clegg MP made an excellent speech to party members. One of his key points was that the vast majority of the electorate vote not on specific policies, but on general impressions, or gut feel, of a party and its values. Polling evidence of the support that we attained at the last election tends to bear this out: the "grey vote", for whom many of our policies were designed, did not support us in the numbers we would have liked; yet amongst the 25 - 45 group, who might perhaps have been adversely affected by some of our proposals, we did very well.

This latter group was attracted by the open-minded, internationalist, caring, environmentally-concerned image of our party - an image we need to reinforce and develop further by adding financial and fiscal responsibility to our portfolio of values. We certainly have the talent as a party to do this.

Leaving aside the issue that those impressions will have been tested by the events of recent weeks, it is imperative that we recognise that the party has to spend the next three years ensuring it projects the right image of the it's core values and principles. This work needs to be undertaken now; we CANNOT afford to wait.

Getting the message across requires a constant drip-feed to the elctorate. Lets all work hard to make this happen.
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:32 am   4 comments
Thursday, January 26, 2006
For a Lib Dem breakthrough (updated)
by Peter

(Update - let me start by saying that this is the way I see it. I hope the others will post to give their views soon enough.)

I welcomed the Huhne leadership candidature, and considered voting for him. If he had stuck to the agenda announced by Lynne Featherstone, he might be even have been my first choice. But I haven't been very impressed by his tax proposals, nor by the signals sent out by his Telegraph interview at the weekend. And in the background have always been worries about his majority, and his lack of experience in the Commons.

Some of the negative campaigning has put me off, so I'll be positive: I was happy about him deciding to stand, and even happier about it after the last weekend. He should have a more prominent role in the future - as should some of his supporters in the Commons.

I didn't expect to vote for Simon, even though I have happy memories of campaigning in the "controversial" by-election, and have always admired him as a speaker. He made a good start, and his most recent interview in the Guardian did send out some of the signals I was looking for. But I am still not quite sure what he wants to do with the leadership. I won't let the latest news influence me one way or the other.

So Chris and Simon are two good candidates - and make it hard to decide who will get my second preference.

The pieces on the leadership election election that have most influenced my views are here, here, and here.

Why will it be Ming for me?

First, Ming is a fighter and has put the party first. He stuck with the Liberals through the Thorpe years. He fought his seat every inch of the way, taking us from fourth to first and then on again to a 32% majority. He will take us further than anyone else we have.

Second, Ming is an instinctive liberal, a "gut liberal" in the words of David Howarth. The leadership debate is about values and direction. Ming is the man to combat false liberals of the Cameron kind.

Third, Ming is not just a politician. He has had a great life away from politics, and there is more to his life today than politics. He has great respect at Westminster, but he is not immersed in the Westminster bubble. He has a great story to tell the electorate.

Fourth, you can imagine Ming in a Cabinet. He has the Westminster experience. He has the style. He will give something that we have not had in recent years.

Fifth, he speaks well, and debates well, and has a great radio voice. He exudes warmth.

Sixth, all the candidates have said things I agree with. But more than anyone else, Ming offers the whole Liberal agenda. For a Lib Dem breakthrough, a Ming is the thing!

More than 600 Liberal Democrats have signed up as Menzies Campbell supporters. You can add your name here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:18 pm   1 comments
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Around the blogs and media
by Jabez Clegg

James Graham has an exposé of modern conservatism.

Cicerohas a thoughtful piece on localism, defections and everything else.

The Times features a piece that brings to mind older, happier sex scandals.

Vince Cable, the Treasury spokesman, is correctly named by 6 per cent and Nick Clegg and Ed Davey by a mere 2 per cent each. Some confused Mr Davey with the retired England rugby captain Will Carling.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:21 pm   0 comments
The Odd One Out Round
by Jabez Clegg

As Bill Mclaren might have said: "There'll be trouble in the streets of Tunbridge Wells tonight!"

It seems the Tories are waking up to the fact that one of these "right-wing" leaders is not like the other ones ...

[Hat-tip to Guido]
posted by Apollo Project @ 3:43 pm   0 comments
Silver Linings
by Steve Travis

There is much gossip about potential MP defectors to the Tories. Even the Independent decided to speculate on this matter.

Leaving aside the fact that defectors rarely prosper, I suspect any potential leaver would want to see some action rather than warm words on Cameron's part before jumping ship. And this ignores the signal fact that becoming a Lib Dem MP is bloody difficult, and anyone who wanted the easy route to power would have joined the Tories (or Labour) in the first place.

What seems to have been less remarked upon is the tremendous opportunity that's been presented to us with the Cameron "no tax-cuts" announcements of recent days. With even Simon Hughes singing Vince Cable's praises, it's clear that the centre of gravity amongst the party's talent is recognised by all the leadership contenders.

Our heavyweight economics team now have the chance to put forward a visionary, challenging and above all popular fiscal programme that lifts people out of tax altogether, and rebalances the tax-take away from income and towards other forms of taxation, such as environmental, property and capital taxes.

Lets hope this is siezed with both hands. That would really shoot the Tory fox - social justice and fiscal imaginativeness!
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:45 am   1 comments
Monday, January 23, 2006
Joe Otten on the environment
by Peter

Joe Otten has an excellent post on the environment on his blog on the strengths and weaknesses of environmental thinking. (He doesn't mention the fact that he used to be active in the Green Party).

There are two passages that particularly struck me. One on keeping things in perspective:

The idea that the environment is so important that everybody should focus on it is an unfortunate consequence of the green lifestyle movement. If it actually happened it would do immense damage to every other aspect of public service. In practise of course it makes nobody responsible and so nothing much happens at all.

But the environment is like other policy areas. If we neglect it, people and other life forms may suffer and die. If we neglect healthcare people will suffer and die. Or crime. If we neglect education or strangle business, we will be poorer in the future and will therefore neglect healthcare, crime or the environment more than necessary then.

A second on the limitations of tax as a policy insturment:

However I don't expect higher fuel costs to change behaviour all that much. I think people will largely cough up and curse. The choice Huhne offers is between energy tax and income tax. Both distort economic choices, but one distorts them in favour of the environment, and the other distorts them against employment. I support fuel taxes because I like one distortion and dislike the other. But there are limits - there comes a point when fuel taxes are too grossly distorting and unfair. My hunch is that this limit comes before very significant changes in behaviour, so I would not like a policy of escalating the taxes until behaviour changes.

The last time there was such a policy, behaviour was changed to that of blockading the fuel depots.

i might go further than Joe on this, but this sort of argument illustrates why some of us have become so disillusioned with the Huhne leadership campaign (I don't know how Joe intends to vote).

If we want to reduce carbon usage we need a long-term framework in which people know that the cost of carbon sources is going to rise faster than that of other sources of energy. Given the issue of peak oil, it is likely that many businesses are on the verge of planning on that basis anyway. But what we don't need is a short, sharp shock. Nor am I reassured by quotes like this (from the FT)

"A rise in taxes on petrol and a new levy on household energy are the key to electoral success, Chris Huhne, one of the three contenders for the Liberal Democrat leadership, has said."

If only it were so simple!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:47 am   17 comments
The Mat GB challenge part one: Why should he rejoin the Liberal Democrats?
by Peter

Mat GB's first challenge was to persuade him to (re)join the lib dems. Here's my go.

Are you a Liberal?

(I used to recruit people by knocking on the doors of known supporters and asking if they would like to take their support of that nice Party led by David/Paddy/Charles one step further. Mat GB is looking for something more ideological, so let's take it back to basics.)

If you believe these three things, you are a liberal in politics

1. Power should not be concentrated.

That means both poltical and economic power. Competitive markets are good because they spread power around (also see 3 below). Absolute monarchy or dictatorship is bad because it concentrates power in one pair of hands. Separation of power is good. Decentralisation is good (but still requires checks and balances). Doctrines of sovereignty are a threat.

2. All people have equal rights.

Self-evident perhaps, but there are many peole around who, sometimes unconsciously, believe that a hierarchical arrangement of society is better. And too many people believe in some kind of discrimination or another.

3. The spontaneous interaction of free human beings is the key source of progress and well-being.

Again, this is an argument for markets, against hierarchy, and for democracy. And against ideas that government (or our traditional ruling elite) can sort everything out.

If you agree with all these propositions, you are a liberal. (You can, of course, seek to put them into practice in many differnt ways. And you can add different elements to them.)

But why should I join the Lib Dems?

Because the Loiberal Democrats represent the liberal centre of gravity in the UK, and it is time we stood together. We need to do so to argue for more localism and against centralism. We need to argue against ID cards. We need to argue for competition and for participation. And we need to protect the space in which people can make their own moral judgements.

And because we are gaining strength, perhaps too slowly, but we have behind us a fifty year rising trend in support. Too many liberals have thought that "when the time is right, I'll lend my support. I'll be active." The time is now.

Aren't there many things that divide liberals?

Not so much. There are liberals who believe that negative liberty is key and their are liberals who define freedom from poverty as part of liberty. But all liberals are against poverty and ignorance, and they should be able to agree on ways to tackle them. And if they can't, well the debate is part of the package! (See Steve Travis for another view on this).

Are all Liberal Democrats liberals?

Not all. Some are just nice people. But most are.

Is it expensive?

Not at all. The recommended amount is 42 quid, but we'll let you in for just six quid if tinmes are hard. Sign up on line here.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:38 am   2 comments
Sunday, January 22, 2006
BritBlog Roundup
The Britblog round up is out. Nothing unusual about that. Except that we're included. We're not quite sure if we should have a drink or a ... anyway we're not quite sure how to celebrate.

Also there are Ken Owen, Jonathan Calder, Pickled Politics (all to be found in our links) and Joe Otten (who will shortly be there).
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:47 pm   4 comments
Time to draw together
By Peter

It is not a great time for a story like this to break.

Ming's message for the party to "draw together" hits the right note.

According to the North London Online he has said:

"No party is entirely subject to what happens to any one individual. The party is much bigger than that. My task as acting leader is to secure a sense of unity and purpose. We have a strong political agenda. We have a sense of purpose, we have great deal to do and a great opportunity in which to do it."

I think that is right. Time to get back to business.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:37 pm   0 comments
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Not exactly the sort of press coverage we wanted
by Peter

I don't think I have ever linked to the News of the World before, and if it is all the same to you, I hope not to have to do so again. But here it is.

It really is astounding that Mark Oaten should have stood for the leadership knowing that any story like this might break.

He has done the right thing in standing down immediately. I do not believe this is the end of his career - this is his private life, after all. But he must need a break from the frontline for a while.

Stephen Tall puts things very well on his blog.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:51 pm   2 comments
Week two: where do they stand now?
by Peter

Another week has gone by in the leadership contest - time to take stock once more.

Mark Oaten: last week I had Mark Oaten in fourth place - and pointed to his limited support among MPs. Since then, of course, he has had to drop out of the contest. This is a little sad, as he has ideas worth debating. But if you have not got support from your parliamentary colleagues, standing for election as leader is not sustainable. Mark probably felt that he might become our Tony Blair. My feeling is that - in the nicest possible way - he might yet become our Mandelson. All the candidates have promised him a place on the front bench - a good thing too!

Chris Huhne: Chris Huhne made quite an impression in the first week of the campaign (surprise and a well-managed will-he-won't-he manoeuvre contributed to this). He does have sufficient support from the parliamentary party to justify standing - but it comes essentially from first term MPs. He has gathered the support of a number of Lib Dem bloggers - yet this second week has been relatively low key. He has not been backed by his old European Parliament leader, Graham Watson - which would have got him a sympathetic hearing from the South West. One would not write-off Chris's chances if he got into the last two. The problem is trying to imagine him getting there. Outside his (substantial) former South East Euro seat his name recognition is not high. His slim majority and some of his old policy positions also count against him. Of course he got quite a lot of hair...

Simon Hughes: Many Lib Dems who had thought there was no way they would vote for Simon, were impressed enough by his launch to reconsider. And three extra endorsements from the parliamentary party mean that he can claim a concrete advance this week. But last weekend he was the favourite - one journalist rather unflatteringly described him as hardly able to contain his excitement at last Saturday's hustings. This weekend he is in second place. Indeed I begin to wonder whether his objective in this contest is really to win, or to make a statement on values. He has not said much on what he would use the leadership for, and done little to outline a strategy for the party. He remains the best speaker, and I think the hustings will bring out the best of him. Personally I hope he uses them to address the country rather than the party: ordinary party members often have a less rarefied view of politics than those you meet at conference. If he connects with the public at large, things might start to move for Simon.

Ming Campbell: Ming can hardly have hoped for a better week than this. His first attempt at Prime Minister's Questions was not a great success. Second time around he had done all the homework and got a good press. If he had slipped up a second time his campaign would have been in crisis. Instead he could move smoothly on to the official launch of his campaign. This was well-judged. Surrounding himself with Jo Swinson, Sarah Teather, Nick Clegg, Mike Storey and Shirley Williams he hit all the right notes, presenting an attractive vision of the future of the party. Essentially he offers Lib Dem members the chance to vote...Lib Dem. This looks like a winning formula to me - but there is a long time left in this contest. At the moment he is reinstalled as favourite.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:26 am   3 comments
Friday, January 20, 2006
Any more bar charts?
by Peter

Ryan Cullen has this bar chart. It is based on tee shirt sales, and rather heavy on non-candidates (Mark Oaten, Öpik and Hemming - future collector's items all of them).

Any more bar charts out there?
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:47 pm   0 comments
Nick Clegg takes the Mat GB shallenge
by Peter

Nick Clegg has a piece on the Guardian site that responds pretty well to the terms of the MatGB challenge (scroll down).

Why (re)join the Lib Dems?

Nick says

the need for a forceful, independent Liberal voice to challenge the two larger parties has never been greater. Who else would have opposed the invasion of Iraq when Labour and the Tories both supported it? Who else would have opposed the expensive and illiberal proposal for ID cards when Labour and the Tories agreed (even though the Tories have now executed a welcome U-turn on the issue)? Who else would have spoken up in defence of the environment before Labour and the Tories decided it was trendy to do so? Who else will campaign against the bossy top-down system of government, barely accountable to parliament or the country at large, which Tory and Labour governments over the years have done so much to defend?
These aren't piffling questions. They go to the heart of what Britain is, and what Britain could aspire to be. If people want a Liberal Britain - tolerant, diverse, moderate - then everyone has an interest in seeing the Lib Dems grow in strength.

Why support his candidate?

Ming Campbell is, in my view, by a long way the best candidate to lead the Lib Dems in these circumstances. Having worked as his deputy in the House of Commons since I was elected, I have seen for myself his enormous political and personal strengths. A man who held the 100 metres UK record for seven years, rose to become a QC, defeated cancer, dissected Blair's ill-judged decision to rush into war in Iraq, and remains one of the most respected MPs in the country, has the steel and flair to give the Lib Dems the clout to win.

Meanwhile, in The Independent, Vince Cable is toying with some interesting ideas on taxation.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:32 am   4 comments
by Peter

The Campbell campaign has launched a podcast and promise that it is the first of many. I read the other day that Martin Tod is the power behind the Campbell website - that suggests it will be good quality (which it is - but I suspect there is more to come).

The last couple of days have gone pretty well for the Campbell team, but also for the Lib Dems as a whole. Nick Clegg has been making the running on extraordinary rendition (the rumour has long circulated that the Government were economical in their reply to Kennedy on 7 December). And there was a by-election win in Ely (the candidate was not Clement Freud this time).
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 7:25 am   0 comments
Thursday, January 19, 2006
How much did Blair know about torture flights?
by Peter

It's good to see that holding a leadership election has not stopped Liberal Democrats from holding the government to account.

This is the story the BBC is running:

Tony Blair is facing calls for a public inquiry into America's use of UK airports to transport terror suspects.

The Liberal Democrats accused ministers of "crude" spin after a leaked memo advising them how to avoid questions on the subject from MPs was revealed.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:05 pm   0 comments
How much did Blair know about torture flights?
by Peter

It's god to see that holding a leadership election has not stopped Liberal Democrats from holding the government to account.

This is the story the BBC is running:

Tony Blair is facing calls for a public inquiry into America's use of UK airports to transport terror suspects.

The Liberal Democrats accused ministers of "crude" spin after a leaked memo advising them how to avoid questions on the subject from MPs was revealed.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:05 pm   0 comments
Mark Oaten backing Ming? - Updated
by Peter

That was the message from the Guardian. They said

Sir Menzies Campbell promised to be the Liberal Democrats' "bridge to the future" as he formally launched his leadership campaign.

Flanked by Sarah Teather, the Lib Dems' local government spokeswoman, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Baroness Shirley Williams, Sir Menzies said he wanted to lead a "strong, distinguished" party that would be "serious about politics".

He also received the backing of Mark Oaten, who this afternoon withdrew from the leadership race after only one MP publicly backed him.

But now they have amended ttheir story.

Stephen Tall has a nice piece on Mark Oaten on his blog.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:32 pm   1 comments
And then there were three
by Peter

Well I am glad I did not make that post about Mark Oaten now. My original line seems to have been the better one:

Some MPs are apparently about to support Mark Oaten because they want a contest. I wonder if there is really room for both Oaten and Huhne in this contest.

Now the Guardian reports that he is pulling out.

I'll be sorrier than most. Many Lib Dem bloggers had decided that he was fourth in my preferences - and that was my view last week.

His ambition is an advantage in my view - and has led him to question the party's approach to good effect in the past. But his launch statement was not the polished document one might have expected, and queries about invisible support, the secret seven, and the hired guns are telling against him. At this moment he seems to be trailing the pack. I have him at fourth preference (ie blank). but there's plenty of time

But I had him inching into third place until the latest stories erupted.

UPDATE: the BBC has this:

Lib Dem Europe spokesman Nick Clegg, a supporter of deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell, told the BBC Mr Oaten had come "to a mature decision ... clearly the support among MPs was never there".

Asked if he expected Mr Oaten to now come out in support of Sir Menzies, he said: "We haven't had any contact with him yet, but he would make an extremely strong member of the front bench team."
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 11:47 am   2 comments
Stephen Tall takes the MatGB challenge
by Peter

Stephen Tall has a very good post on who he has chosen to support in the leadership contest and why.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 11:43 am   0 comments
And they say a week is a long time in politics - updated
by Peter

Yesterday I was preparing to write an update (prevous post here) on the leadership campaign which was going to offer the controversial view that Mark Oaten had not had a bad week really, and might be advancing. My argument was going to be that the further from Westminster and Cowley Street you were, the better Oaten looked. The leak about the Kennedy e-mails in the Independent struck me as a bit of a wild-card - not really in Oaten's best, long-term interests.

And then the news broke of this police involvement and the Kennedy denials broke - very bad news for Oaten.

Today the newspapers reflect this. The Independent writes that

Mark Oaten's leadership campaign descended into farce after it emerged that he enjoyed the public backing of only one MP.

Of the seven MPs who formally nominated him for the leadership, only his campaign manager, Lembit Opik, remained publicly backing him yesterday.

Meanwhile the Times has this:

As Sir Menzies Campbell shone in the Commons, the ‘Oatengate’ scandal was unfolding outside it

THE race to lead the Liberal Democrats took a bizarre twist as one of the candidates said that documents had been stolen from his Commons office and called in the police.

Mark Oaten, who appears to be trailing in fourth place, said that an e-mail, apparently showing how Charles Kennedy was helping his campaign, was removed from his office and leaked to the media.

The row intensified as Mr Kennedy’s closest aide accused Mr Oaten’s own team of being behind the leak in an attempt to boost his chances by claiming that he had the former leader’s backing.

Personally I thought it better that Oaten particpates in the contest. But it is hard to see that he can continue to do so on this basis.

The other politican who is beginning to take a few blows is David Cameron. This is what the Times had to say on Prime Minister's Questions:

Ming was better than David Cameron. For the first time at PMQs, the Tory leader seemed fuzzy and lacklustre. He spouted the same barbs that Michael Howard used to and it sounded tired. Also Mr Blair, who had been so meek with Ming, was razor sharp when dealing with Mr Cameron.

Mr Blair is never in a hurry when he sizes up an opponent. For the past few weeks, he has been biding his time, trying to get the measure of the man who is Dave. Now it is clear that Mr Blair thinks he has nailed him as a chameleon.

He kept demanding to know what Dave’s policy was on this and that. Mr Blair never does anything by chance and, finally, the Tory leader took the bait and snapped back that Mr Blair was not the one who was supposed to be asking the questions. The PM allowed himself a secret smile and hit right back. “I do apologise for asking these policy questions,” he said with deadly sweetness, “but the fact is that your policies change so very quickly, on almost a day-to-day basis, that sometimes it is good to inform myself to keep up with where you are at any one time.”

We can expect a lot more of that in weeks to come. Over on the Lib Dem benches, King Ming was looking relieved. For yesterday his cup runneth over and he was grateful for it.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:03 am   0 comments
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
PMQs updated (twice)
by Peter

After last week there has been a little too much attention focussed upon Prime minister's Questions today.

This is how the Guardian reports it:


Sir Menzies Campbell asks simply how many of Sir Michael Bichard's recommendations have been implemented since his report of over 18 months ago. Mr Blair admits he cannot say.

The Lib Dem stand-in leader asks when the relevant police computers will be operational? Again Mr Blair cannot say exactly. A good double blow from Sir Menzies - rival candidate Chris Huhne is sat behind him, nodding furiously.


[Ming's] Lib Dem leadership hopes were probably riding on today's show. And after this outing, the game is back on.

Firstly, he chose a subject which virtually ruled out any of the schoolyard braying, sneering and sniggering that greeted his last, fumbled question over schools who couldn't find permanent heads.

The sex offenders crisis is about as serious a subject as it gets and he delivered a brace of well-targeted questions that went to the heart of the matter. And, as a result, he was heard in near silence.

Secondly he produced two embarrassing "don't know" answers from the prime minister - over how many of the Bichard recommendations following the Soham inquiry had been implemented, and when a police computer checking system for offenders was going to be completed.

Lastly, he managed it without looking like he was going for cheap political point scoring (even though it had the same effect).


And here is the transcript

Sir Menzies Campbell: "Following the tragic murders at Soham, Sir Michael Bichard in a report published over 18 months ago made 31 recommendations. Can the Prime Minister now tell us how many of these have been implemented?"

The Prime Minister: "I can't tell him precisely how many ... err ...have been implemented since Michael Bichard produced his report. But I can say this: that we will ensure there is legislation introduced implementing his report and I would just quote from what Michael himself said the other evening which is that 'The Department of Education and Science has been working hard since the enquiry in producing a single barring scheme and they've kept me in touch with what they're doing and I'm very impressed with the work they've actually done'."

Sir Menzies Campbell: "The Prime Minister will know that one of the key recommendations of the Bichard Inquiry was a police computer system designed to share intelligence about sex offenders. Can he tell us why the Impact computer system is now reported to be three years behind schedule and can he tell us when he expects it to be fully functional?"

The Prime Minister: "Um...I cant give him that reason off ... off the cuff but I will... I will write to him and tell him. I can say to him, however, that since 1997, I think this is an important point that should be made in light of all the recent and perfectly understandable controversy, since 1997 there has been a tightening and not a loosening of the system and it also worth pointing out that people have taken these types of decisions in very difficult cases going back over many many decades and so it is important of course that we introduce both the recommendations that Sir Michael Bichard has put forward and I also think my Right Hon Friend will be talking about further safeguards that we will introduce tomorrow and I very much hope they will command the support of the whole house."

posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:15 pm   1 comments
The MatGB challenge
by Peter

In the comments to this post MatGB issued a challenge.

Lib Dem bloggers have 6 days to persuade him

(a)to rejoin the party and

(b) to vote first choice for Ming and second choice for Chris (actually other combinations are possible, but why make it harder than it need be?).

Here are a few clues on the sort of thing he's looking for:

Isn't joining a waste of my money?
If I do join, who should I give my first and 2nd preferences for
And "he's such a really nice guy" is likely to dissuade me from voting for someone, I don't want nice, I want effective. I want to see them make their case, fight the fight, win the debates and assert their position.

A government more authoritarian than Thatcher at her worst. A Tory party trying to steal the LibDem clothes but, it seems, missing the point entirely. I liked Charles, he's obviously a nice bloke. But, well, the needed (and expected) breakthrough in May 2005 didn't happen, the open goal over ID cards and the Terrorism Bill hasn't been exploited, the constructive/real opposition hasn't happened. I think, when it came down to it, that he wasn't up for the job, regardless of his alcoholism. Will any of the new bunch put the case the way they need to?

You have 7 days. Persuade me to join, put up decent arguments why I (and others) should. I'll link to good ones, or you can comment here.

More details and an application form over at Not Little England.

My starting offer is that if he rejoins I shall buy him a drink next time I'm in Torquay - but no treating for votes!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:43 pm   0 comments
New Blogs and Liberal Review
by Peter

Simon Mollan is highlighting the merits of some good new lib dem blogs.

And a belated welcome for the Liberal Review. Let's hope this project grows and prospers! Rob's latest thoughts on where it might be heading are worth reading.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:22 pm   0 comments
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Ratings for the candidate web sites
by Peter

MatGB at Not little England (does everyone in Torquay blog?) has a piece on the candidate websites. A good read for the techies among you.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:37 pm   2 comments
That Sky debate
by Peter

I haven't seen it yet - but here are a few thoughts from the newspapers and my mother.

The news concentrates on the silly story about the car (and I hope Ming keeps it - it is important that our leader looks as if he enjoys life and is not condemned to wearing a hair shirt. If he has to, voters will assume that they will have to if we win any influence. Then we're stuffed).

Oaten and Hughes both made errors in setting specific seat targets. From the Scotsman

Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's acting leader, followed Mr Kennedy's usual line by not specifying any target. "There is no glass ceiling for the party," he said. "We should aim to maximise our number of seats, maximise our votes."

Mr Hughes used that to jibe at his rival, declaring: "I'm clearer than that. If we're serious about this, we have to say to our members we ought to have 100 seats in parliament."

Mark Oaten, the party's home affairs spokesman and Mr Kennedy's preferred candidate, said the party should ultimately be aiming for 300 seats in the 645-seat House of Commons.

Supporters of Chris Huhne have assured me that his past pronouncements will not be used against him by his opponents. I hope they are right but the Times says this

Chris Huhne, only eight months an MP, has shown impressive boldness in standing, and the contest is better for his presence. However, it is hard to see why such a dogmatic pro-European would improve the party’s electoral chances.

while the BBC says of Ming's suggestion that he might give up his Jag that

The shock was so overwhelming that it almost completely overshadowed Mr Huhne's pledge to raise domestic fuel bills.

As for my mother (in her early seventies, and a habitual, but not committed Lib Dem voter), she told me that Mark Oaten was very good, Ming was good. Hughes seemed a nice young man (there's a "but" hanging in the air). And? And that's it. She hardly noticed the other fellow. Extrapolate wildly that her views are not wildly different from those of many semi-detached west of England members and you might think that Oaten is going to do much better than many super-activists and bloggers believe, and that Huhne is going to do much worse.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:08 am   3 comments
Monday, January 16, 2006
The Business Press and Cameron
by Peter

Continuing this occasional series, today John O'Sullivan - formerly an advisor to Thatcher - steps up to take aim at Cameron in the FT.

His thesis is that Cameron is attempting to fool all of the people all of the time. And he says so with some style:

The activists are trying to convince themselves that he is pulling off a brilliant trick. He is presenting orthodox Tory ideas in glittering centrist garb – or, if not quite that, adding new ideas to the existing corpus. For instance, asking Bob Geldof to help forge a world anti-poverty programme may be a roundabout way of undermining the Common Agricultural Policy.

This is too hopeful.


A smaller group of modernisers, perhaps including Mr Cameron himself, is in the grip of a more subtle delusion. They see the new leader deliberately “dissing” traditionalist supporters in order to win over LibDem voters.


That leaves the party faithful. The Tories think they have elected Hugh Grant. In doing so, they believe, they have solved a nagging existential problem. Until the mid-1980s, the Tory faithful felt themselves the natural party of the middle class. But since then they have drifted apart as the Tories became Thatcherised and the middle class changed its self-image, political opinions and sensibility – became, in a word, “Curtisland” after Richard Curtis of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually, in which a multi-faith, multi-ethnic London middle class swears terribly but is otherwise awfully nice and holds excruciatingly nice opinions. This is a global phenomenon as parties across the English-speaking world change composition with blue-collar workers moving right and others left. But the Tories don’t know that and would like to be accepted in Curtisland once again.

All of which brings to mind the thesis of the elusive GHD.

And of course it would not matter all that much if the policies were good. BUT O'Sullivan concludes that

None of these spells, alas, has anything to do with the actual or potential problems facing Britain in the coming decade.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 1:35 pm   0 comments
Answer to first leadership quiz
by Peter

Thanks to all those who took part in the quiz.

The author of that spirited evocation of Liberals past and present was...

...Adair Turner (aka Lord Turner). Turner is better known of late for his report on pensions (a report which upset Gordon Brown). The paragraph quoted is the closing paragraph of his book Just Capital. (Here is a review by Samuel Brittan).

Who needed to say something like this? I think Simon Hughes needed to say it - and indeed he has said he no longer believes in 50% Income Tax. So perhaps there is hope for Simon yet.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:03 am   0 comments
Leadership Quiz (3): Who went where?
by Peter

This shouldn't be too difficult for you - which candidate went to which school?

a) Llandaff Cathedral School
b) Westminster School
c) Queens' School
d) Hillhead High
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:41 am   3 comments
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Two concepts of leadership
by Peter

As I did not attend the hustings yesterday, I have been greedily reading the opinions of those who did.

The general view seems to be that Huhne was rather heavy and humourless, and that Oaten was rather light. People seem to think that Campbell or Hughes had the better content. Views differ radically on how well they spoke.

John Hemming has the text of Ming's speech. As usual with Ming, it has some good soundbites (I particularly like "Our liberalism is not a struggle between those who wish to modernise and
those who do not. To be a Liberal Democrat is to be a moderniser. What were
Lloyd George, Beveridge and Grimond but modernisers?"). This ability to say something memorable will count for Ming - they will get him the press coverage he needs.

How did he say it?

James Graham thinks

Ming: good content, below par delivery.

Richard on Militant Moderate has a similar point of view
The second half saved Menzies, because he started out very poorly, probably because of the sound problems with his mike

Yet Edis Bevan sees it very differently

The revelation was Campbell. Ming was alive in every word of his speech, clear emotion backing up every position. I have never seen him like this before. Forget the careful buttoned down image of TV shorts interviews. Ming looked unchained, full of energy.

For Hughes the consensus is that it was a good stylish speech. But then everyone says they expected this. James Graham says:

Simon: if I didn’t have strong reservations about Simon’s positioning and his chaotic and autocratic style which I observed first hand while we were both on the Federal Executive, this speech would have really tempted me.

Edis says
Simon Hughes – well it was a Simon Hughes speech which means good and he knows exactly what to say to rally a LibDem audience.

And Richard has
Simon Hughes: Without a doubt, the most stylish performance... but he is already established as the slick and charming candidate. What we didn't see was any evidence of heavy-weight policy. A great showman, who will be in the final two, I am sure, but could, on this performance, once again be pipped to the post.

My view on Simon was that we all knew that if being Leader was just a matter of making speeches, then he would walk it. But it isn't.

Stephen Glenn has come up with a nice piece of textual analysis - from which I arrive at the opposite conclusion.

Here's Simon

The easiest thing for me to do now would be to run through all the policies I support, trying to mention everything that might appeal to every section of the party. But that isn’t what this leadership contest should be about. Because in our party, it’s not the leader that makes the policy, it’s the members – and I am determined that my leadership will be as consultative and participative as this process has been.

And here's Ming
I believe in leading not following; setting goals and objectives; shaping events not being shaped by them; taking responsibility and discharging it; being both candid and confident; neither dictatorial nor prescriptive, but consultative and committed.

Stephen is happy with Simon's formulation. Many will be. But I see it as a declaration that he intends to be a Chairman rather than a Leader. Ming's is an advocacy of Leadership.

Without wishing to be too Hegelian about it, I believe that parties like our own, which preach decentralisation, and involvement need strong leadership. Of course we should have particpation and debate, but we also need leadership. Princes to build the city, republics to defend it as some Italian had it.

The most thoughtful take on the election in the Sunday papers seems to be Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:33 am   1 comments
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Leadership Contest - Sartorial Matters
by Jabez Clegg

Vivienne over at Forceful and Moderate has noticed that three of the four leadership contenders were wearing the same pale blue tie at today's hustings. What she doesn't comment on is Mark Oaten's tie. It was silk, and dark blue with a fine gold stripe. It looked much like a school, college or Regimental tie (perhaps it belongs to Mark's alma mater). He was also wearing the same tie on Question TIme on Thursday evening.

My tie antennae tell me that, whether he made a conscious decision about it or not, this tie is sending out subtle signals. Firstly, it is reassuringly Tory (and follows the first part of Thorpe's "Look Right, talk Left" dictum). Secondly, the colour scheme sends the same message: Tory dark blue with a thin stripe of old Liberal yellow.

The Independent's Pandora column picked up on this earlier this week, when it reported Mr Oaten had made a visit to upmarket shirtmaker TM Lewin:

Mark was being measured up for a rather fetching salmon-coloured shirt," I am informed. "He was also looking at ties. He clearly feels the need to smarten up and look a little more statesmanlike."

This is something that seems to come more naturally to fellow contender Chris Huhne. The former economist is reported to be a martinet when it comes to appearance:

Huhne once carpeted a colleague for coming into the office wearing jeans. "You should always dress as if you are going to meet the Governor of the Bank of England," he barked.

As for myself, I believe you should judge a man by his shoes. Something from George Cleverley, polished to a parade ground sheen, and you can't go too far wrong.
posted by Apollo Project @ 6:14 pm   2 comments
The Car's the Star - Leadership Quiz 2
by Steve Travis

See if you can match the car to the contender, then write us an interesting explanation as to why they drive what they do. The best one will get its own article!

1 1968 Jaguar S-Type
2 Saab
3 Toyota Prius
4 London Taxi

A Simon Hughes
B Chris Huhne
C Ming Campbell
D Mark Oaten
posted by Apollo Project @ 2:15 pm   6 comments
The leadership quiz
by Peter

One of the themes of this election is the combination of different strand of liberalism

1. Which of the leadership candidates is most likely to say this?

The fundamental issue is how to reconcile a dynamic economy and the liberating effects of individual economic freedom with the objective of an inclusive society, recognizing that totally free markets will not achieve that end. This is not a new issue and we are not the first generation to consider it. It intrigued John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes. Its philosophical and political implications were explored by Karl Popper, its economics explored in depth by James Meade. It is a theme frequently present in the writings of Paul Krugman, Samuel Brittan and Ralf Dahrendorf. And in the world of practical politics it found its first expression acrosss Europe in the social insurance schemes and urban improvements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in Britain in the liberal welfare reforms of 1906-14 and in Lloyd George's budget of 1909. From the rigorous but limited principles of Gladstonianism, a liberal tradition has been in a continual process of development, even if not always overtly called by that name, and even if political liberals were often forced into alliance with purely conservative forces. The precise policies pursued need continual fine-tuning to meet changing economic realtiy. But the core philospohy does not need a new name because it exists already. It is called liberalism.

2. This sounds like Steve Travis, but is not. Who wrote it?
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:14 am   8 comments
Friday, January 13, 2006
Week one: where do they stand?
by Peter

Mark Oaten: Mark did quite well on Question Time, but is perhaps more enigma than charisma. His ambition is an advantage in my view - and has led him to question the party's approach to good effect in the past. But his launch statement was not the polished document one might have expected, and queries about invisible support, the secret seven, and the hired guns are telling against him. At this moment he seems to be trailing the pack. I have him at fourth preference (ie blank). but there's plenty of time.

Simon Hughes: Simon opened his campaign with great gusto - but we all know he can make a good speech. What is more, he seemed to offer an opening to an agenda less wedded to the priorities on the Lib Dem insiders, more to the public as a whole:

We now have to demonstrate that we can make the right judgments over other issues which matter to the British people: their finances; their homes; their pensions; their security.

So far, so good - and I predict that he will do well tomorrow. The Meeting the Challenge meeting is his sort of event. I've a lot of time for Simon - and I gave a lot of my time to getting him elected in 1983. Many a time I have wondered whether he was a future leader of the party. If all that was required was speeches, he would walk it. But there is more to the race than that. I'm not convinced that he will live with the pace, and in a way I have the feeling that we don't know enough about Simon. His support from the parliamentary party is pretty patchy too.

Chris Huhne - Chris has emerged with great impact this week. As he is a former journalist I imagine he will get a good press (they stick together). Lynne Featherstone has made the best case I have heard for Huhne

Chris is an economic expert - so he's the man to take the fight to Gordon Brown on the central issue that decides elections. An ambitious, successful party needs to win the national debate on economic policy.

We need to talk about not just what to do with this country's wealth but also about how to create more - to lift more people out of poverty, to improve our public services and to have the resources to protect and improve our communities and our environment.

I agree with that. But there are some questions about the limited time he has had in parliament - and indeed almost all of his supporters seem to be new MPs as well (Howarth, Featherstone, Horwood, etc). I think he is the candidate for technocrats, policy wonks, and people who value conventional measures of credibilty. That is me in part, and so at this moment in time he would bet my second preference.

Ming Campbell: Ming started the week as firm favourite, and ends it merely as one of the favourites. That may mot be worst place to be - there is plenty of scope for a recovery stock. Funnily enough, the man who has made the arguments that most encourage me to vote for Ming was Howarth, in an article meant to make people think again. He descirbed Ming as a gut Liberal and pointed to his statements that the party had got too fond of banning things. Well I'm a gut Liberal too (just take a look!) and I agree that we have got a bit too keen on banning things. Ming himself has come up with a couple of good soundbites:

I know liberals. I have worked with liberals. David Cameron is no liberal.

adapting the putdown of Dan Quayle (mine to worked there)

I'm more for open minds than I am for open-neck shirts.

What I am in favour of is using the tax system to maximise opportunity - not to penalise initiative or aspiration.

If Iran is going to be a big issue in the months and years to come, that strengthens Ming, in my view. He remains my first preference in the leadership battle by some margin.

Anyone else? If Nick Clegg were to enterthe contest he would, I think, do very well.

What about the competition? I don't think we should take them for granted, but I am not at all convinced that Cameron is really such a threat. Maybe more of an opportunity.

Please use the comments to let me know if I have got this all right or all wrong, and to support your candidate. But let's have a clean contest: No negative campaigning!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:44 pm   5 comments
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Huhne proves he's not chicken
by Steve Travis

Only German speakers will spot the awful pun in the title, but I am glad that one of the young(er) generation of MPs has broken cover. Huhne has a CV to die for. He also has a reassuringly deep voice, and on the occasions I've heard him on "Today" comes across with Gravitarse (tm Graham Productions 2006). Even if he is ultimately unsuccessful I see him vying with David laws for Treasury and wiping th efloor with squeaky George. The blogosphere is warming to him too.
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:53 pm   4 comments
One man one vote?
by Peter

If there is one thing that is annoying me about this contest it is the phenomenon of mulitple nominations.

At least four MPs seem prepared to nominate anyone and everyone. Candidates are not exempt from this, as John Hemming reveals. I like John, but this sort of behaviour should be discouraged.

Tunbridge Wells.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:08 pm   3 comments
Flying with both wings
by Peter

Lynne Featherstone is pushing for Chris Huhne to enter the leadership race. I think this might be a good idea too, although there are some obvious arguments against a new MP with a small majority. But Lynne's reasoning shows why she is well up my list of impressive new MPs

An ambitious, successful party needs to win the national debate on economic policy.

We need to talk about not just what to do with this country's wealth but also about how to create more - to lift more people out of poverty, to improve our public services and to have the resources to protect and improve our communities and our environment.

I think I said something similar at the end of last year.

One of the themes of this leadership election according the press was going to be thesis and antithesis: "left" versus "right". But a lot of people in the party are talking in terms of synthesis. Here's David Laws

The Orange Book, which I co-wrote, was an attempt to persuade the party to value all the liberal strands - including the economic. The book was caricatured as an attempt to turn the clock back to some dry Gladstonian liberalism of the 19th century. It was never any such thing. But I accept my responsibility to show that I and my Orange Book colleagues are as committed to social liberalism, or social justice, as they are.

Here's David Howarth.

There are...important aspects the party needs to hold on to. One is that we can be both economically and socially liberal.

Here's Mark Oaten.

And this contest is not just about modernising the party. But it is about the issue of whether it is left or right, or social economic or liberal economic.

And I believe that in fact those are the wrong phrases. We need now to merge those ideas together and create a modern Liberal party for the 21st century.

(I don't want to be negative about any candidate. But one certainly has the impression that this last statement might have been drafted at 2.30am. First it is a choice and then it is not. Very confusing.

Some MPs are apparently about to support Mark Oaten because they want a contest. I wonder if there is really room for both Oaten and Huhne in this contest. One way this might happen is by some MPs nominating more than one candidate. I hope they don't: i can think of anything more likely to bring us into disrepute.)

If we are to tackle this debate properly - and fly with both wings - we probably do need an economist in the mix.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:19 am   8 comments
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Back to The Business
by Peter

I have remarked before how few friends Cameron seems to have in the business press.

A search for the origins of the Major story (below) brought this piece from an article in The Business to light (thanks to Stephen B):

let us not be fooled into thinking the Conservatives, for 15 years Britain’s leading regicide specialists, are united behind their new, youthful leader. Most Tory MPs voted against Cameron even when it was clear he was going to win.

It is not with universal delight that Tory MPs learn they are to be whipped into voting for Labour’s Education Bill. Applause is not uniform when rich kids like Zac Goldsmith are appointed environmental advisers. But these are minor irritations compared to what happened last Friday, when Tory MPs heard Cameron declare they “are on the same side now” as the Lib Dems on the Iraq war. There remains a large chunk of the party for whom this is the deepest of insults.

Cameron’s enemies hope their young leader is making a naïve mistake and hope to explain to him the irreconcilable differences between the Lib Dem and Conservatives on the war on terror.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:57 pm   1 comments
A Major Error
by Peter

Someone with thirty quid to spare might like to tell me how this story ends:

"SOME time ago, John Major's government made an audacious approach to a prominent Liberal Democrat who looked and sounded like a Tory. Would he defect, if a Cabinet job was guaranteed?"
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:34 am   8 comments
Localism and Housing
by Peter

I know people only want to know who Mark Oaten's backers are at present, but once the election is over we have to start preparing for...well, we'll have to start preparing our manifesto.

So here are a couple of useful pointers.

In Public Finance, Profs Jones and Stewart have discuss localism. They say

Despite New Labour’s apparent conversion to ‘neighbourhood government’, the talk in town and county halls across the UK is of ‘super councils’. Ministers believe that bigger is better, and they are starting to use the dreaded ‘R’ word again. Reorganisation is back in fashion. But it would be a costly distortion of the energies and resources of both central and local government.

It is clear that the old technocratic urge for bigger councils still throbs in central government, and in parts of local government. While the 2004 referendum in the English Northeast was a setback for those wanting to impose standard regions, appointed regional quangos continue to suck up functions from local authorities. Champions of regionalism are also promoting a reorganisation based on city regions, forgetting that the city regions of the 1974 reorganisation, such as Avon and the metropolitan counties, were the least-accepted parts of the new structure.

and that

Mainland Europeans have found ways of combining small-scale community local government with larger-scale arrangements for delivery. They have recognised that local authorities do not always have to provide services themselves. They can use other institutions, such as central government outposts, or other, bigger local authorities, or consortiums of local authorities, or private-sector firms, or voluntary bodies, or combinations of them all.

There are probably still some fans of regions around in the Lib Dems. But some of our best minds (I refer to Steve Travis) have moved on. This articles provides a useful message for us.

In the Guardian, Malcom Dean has been looking at housing, on the basis of a book by Chris Holmes

Holmes, who has spent 30 years working in housing and homelessness organisations, sets out some important lessons: do not sacrifice quality for numbers, as happened in the 50s; seek to diversify communities; and do not believe that social housing gives too much priority to housing needs. "The problem is not that people who are poor live in social housing," he argues. "It is that they are too often all housed together on the same estates."

His aim is not to produce another era of mass housing projects, but rather much more diversified housing types and tenure, including: self-built homes, shared ownership, market renting and socially rented, resident-controlled cooperatives and tenant managed homes, as well as owner occupied.

Liberal sort of ideas, in principle. Personally I would add to this mix some provision for shops and other business. Social segregation is pretty bad. Segregation from economic activity may just be worse.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 9:41 am   4 comments
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Who should be deputy?
by Peter

At this stage I'm backing Ming for the leadership. And if it isn´t Ming it will be Simon or Mark, I suppose (I can't quite see John Memming pulling it off).

But who should be deputy leader?

David Laws - love him or hate him, an intellectual powerhouse

Ed Davey - bright young man, inconspicuous at education

Lynne Featherstone - impressing many in her early months in Parliament

Nick Clegg - most people's hot tip for next leader

Andrew George - a radical voice from the south west.


anonymous (she gets everywhere, doesn't she?) suggest I add

Chris Huhne - the new MP with the longest cv

Susan Kramer - the lib dems Valerie Singleton, I always think (this is a compliment)

Vince Cable - the man who is making us credible on the economy

This is (definitely) one contest where we are spoiled for choice. I could make a good case for each of them. Let's hope the leadership contest - and its aftermath - provide them with greater visibility.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 5:07 pm   12 comments
You can say that again...(Updated)
by Peter

There is a piece on Ming on Guardian Online. One phrase caught my eye

Many in the party are tired of being caricatured as sandal-wearing intellectual lightweights: Sir Menzies is neither of those things.

Somehow one can't picture Ming in sandals.

Elsewhere, Nick Robinson has resurrected an old interview on his newsblog.

One passage caught my eye, when Ming is quotes a famous - er - Jamaican philosopher who said "what do they know of cricket that only cricket know?"

and goes on to adapt it

"what do they know of politics that only politics know?"

Someone on the comments thinks the quote comes from Kipling (and indirectly it does). More directly it comes from C L R James (The "er" was needed - he was born in Port of Spain).

A politician who can quote C L R James and thinks there is more to life than politics is ticking a couple of my boxes. But I will be asking Mark Oaten a few questions on the political writings of John Arlott (who at least came from Hampshire).
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:59 pm   3 comments
Monday, January 09, 2006
That Gladstonian touch
by Peter

This is Ashdown on the leadership contest:

Lord Ashdown, who is now a diplomat in the Balkans, admitted he had not made public a preference at the last leadership contest, to replace him.

He said: "Last time I thought it improper that as the departing leader of the party I should support anybody.

"I think that is probably right. But now that I am the last leader at one remove I suppose I can come among you unmuzzled and say who I am going to support. The short answer is Menzies Campbell."

I liked that Gladstonian bit.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 1:30 pm   1 comments
Disunity in liberalism 2010
by Peter

At the risk of upsetting regular leaders, I have to reveal that I didn't entirely go along with the appeal launched by Steve Travis, calling on Paddy to resume the leadership.

But it was good to hear Paddy on the radio this morning, and Steve is certainly correct to judge this a most fortunate time for Paddy to become available for renewed service. I hope that he will be visible in the months to come, a reminder of Lib Dem continuity.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:31 am   1 comments
Let's hope he is wrong
by Peter

There is an unusually thoughtful analysis of the threats and opportunities posed by the current situation in the Times this morning. Peter Riddell writes that

The myth of betrayal is being fostered...{as}...the thrust of a populist platform appealing to ordinary members against unrepresentative and treacherous MPs.

He goes on to say

The “treachery” case is nonsense. Most of the MPs who turned against Mr Kennedy last week had not only previously been among his closest supporters but had covered up, and suffered the consequences of, his drinking. The critics felt, reasonably, that their patience had been pushed too far and that Mr Kennedy was failing to offer a firm lead.

His conclusion is a little grim. He suggests that Liberal Democrats run the risk of being embroiled in a civil war, with demagogues seeking to set the Parliamentary party against the membership. I hope he is wrong about this.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:23 am   3 comments
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Blaming the messenger
by Peter

It is always difficult to break bad news - worst of all when the recipient does not wish to accept the message. Richard Allen (who is better placed to know than most of us) has this message on his blog

the other side of the sympathy coin is a backlash against "wicked Lib Dem MPs" for "kicking him when he was down". The party will inevitably suffer damage from this public impression. There is another side to the story but this may well not emerge.
(my emphasis)
Comparisons with the Conservative overthrow of Thatcher have been drawn and are, perhaps, not entirely inappropriate. Thatcher was still popular in the country but had progressively lost the support of those at the centre of the Conservative party. The fact that Charles had a personal problem is incidental to this core political fact but does, I am afraid, seem to be dominating the coverage.

Gentle reader, if a leadership candidate comes asking for your vote and blaming others for the way things happened, ask them first what they would have done. And then ask them why they didn't do it.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:36 pm   0 comments
Cameron's critics on the City pages
by Peter

Not everyone reads the City pages, but those who do have seen a number of attacks on Cameron. Jeff Randall in the Telegraph gave him quite a kicking the other day (I reproduced some of the juicier attacks here). Peter Preston has returned to this in his Media column today.

A few pages earlier, Frank Kane joins in the fun.

I never thought I'd see the day when the head of Tesco was able to put up a better defence of capitalism than the leader of the Conservative party, but that's exactly where we are now.

Sir Terry Leahy, the man many think is the most powerful in Britain, can explain precisely the role of the big corporations in the modern world, and how these capitalist giants can be agents of social change and improvement. Leahy, a friend of Labour by background and inclination, may have been forced into serious consideration of these issues by the anti-Tesco lobby, but he has at least given them serious thought, and come up with persuasive arguments.

David Cameron, by contrast, seems ready to abandon the Tories' longest held political beliefs at the drop of a hat. His exhortations to 'stand up to big business' and condemnations of capitalism left most business friends of mine giggling with embarrassed disbelief. 'He's only doing it for the votes, don't worry, he doesn't really mean it, you'll see' was the typical reaction, but it was all said with a worried little laugh.

The case against Cameron is slowly taking shape: he´ll say anything to get votes; he was ...poor in business himself; he was Lamont's right-hand man y'know; he can´t be trusted with your daughter's pocket money...

Better still there is a case for the Liberal Democrats being made elsewhere in the finacncial press. Here is the FT.

The Conservative party has a new leader and Tony Blair will not be leading Labour into the next election. Now the Liberal Democrats are set for a change at the top following Charles Kennedy's admission that he had been treated for a drink problem - treatment he had repeatedly denied receiving. The change in leadership will offer an opportunity to carve out a distinctive role for Britain's third party...

...As with the Conservatives, the election of a new leader is an opportunity for the LibDems to go beyond a change of faces. The strategy of outflanking Labour on the left while presenting an image of moderation to the right has reached its limits - as the modest gains in last year's general election showed.

Happily for the LibDems, there is a gap to be filled in British politics. A party is needed that is strong on individual liberty, distrustful of big government and in favour of local democracy. It should be low tax and pro-market - using market mechanisms to curb public spending while promoting welfare.

The Tories could adopt such a platform, but their coalition includes cultural conservatives uncomfortable with such unbridled liberalism. That should be no problem, however, for a party whose origins in the Liberal party of the 19th and early 20th centuries ideally position it to fill the gap.

Okay, not everyone is gonig to agree with all of this. And the challenge for people (like myself) who generally go along with it is certainly to show how the market can delver more for poorer people. Nor do I entirely agree that the leadership change is going to lead directly to a great change in direction for the party. As Alex Sweet has said on this blog, it is impossible to imagine that this party is going to ditch one half of its philosophy.

But this is a good moment to get such an endorsement. And thinking it through, a further line is emerging to be used against the Tories. With the election of a semi-aristocratic leader, they look less than ever like a business party. The Goldsmith move is of the same kind: his "ecological" vision has always seemed backward-looking and semi-feudal. Perhaps this is the emerging shape of Cameron's tories.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:27 pm   3 comments
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Not so much who but how
by Peter

I´m writing this before hearing the 3pm statement. I can only believe that this will be a resignation statement. It will be a sad end to a successful period as Leader. I hope we will see Charles on the front bench very soon.

Two questions arise: who will lead us, and how?

My preference is Campbell, and if not Campbell, Clegg. Either we take the fight to a new area where we can win (gravitas) or we find someone who is younger, better-looking and smilier than Cameron. But all of the candidates have their merits. And as Alex Sweet has said (see below), the idea that one or the other will lead the party in a distinct direction is probably overdone. We all believe that the State has some role in helping people, and we all believe taht you can have too much of it.

How do we go forward? It is traditional to hope for a more collegial style of leadership - and I´m a traditionalist. We have a huge amount of campaigning resources available these days: many more elected officials and researchers. Many more people who command the attention of local and regional media. We could be doing a lot to get this pointing in the same direction.

It is also traditional to want a strong leader - and I´ll go for that too. I want a performing economy to be part of our platform - and that will mean saying that some things just can't be paid for.

Finally we need a leader who will reach out and expand the number of people who feel themselves represented by the Liberal Democrats. We have a great deal of talent in the parliamentary party. I´m optimistic for our future.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 2:21 pm   6 comments
A deliverer writes...
by David Langshaw

I am one of the lowest forms of political life in the Liberal Democrats: my only job is to deliver leaflets. I do not hold any elected office, and I am not on any Executive Committees, Working Parties, Policy Fora or any of the other things that people get on to in order to avoid delivering their own leaflets. I am also a party loyalist, not greatly exercised by policy nuances or philosophical debates. I pay my subs, read the Liberal Democrat News and can be relied on to turn up for any by elections in the area.

I have supported Charles Kennedy consistently since his election (even though I voted for Malcolm Bruce) despite the rumours and the lame denials. And why not? I supported Jeremy Thorpe through much worse. But Charles has to go. Now. He has no possible role to play as Leader of the Party if his Parliamentary troops are not willing to follow him. He is a busted flush, and someone has to point this out to him as soon as possible.

If he stands in the Leadership election that he has instigated, then presumably he will be just another candidate, merely one amongst many. He will not have the luxury of being the incumbent. He cannot be a candidate and the Leader at the same time. Therefore all the MP's who have been persuaded not to oppose Chares as long as he is the Leader are absolved from any obligations they feel they might have. If there is going to be a Leadership election, then it's open season, preferential voting, and Devil take the hindmost. I fear that Charles will be humiliated if he stands again.

My preference would be for the Parliamentary party to coalesce around someone who they do think they can support, and anoint the favoured candidate forthwith. I know that this is asking rather a lot, seeing that they cannot even organise a simple coup d'etat, but just as Charles now has to do the best thing for the Party, so does the Parliamentary party itself. Ming Campbell would be my best hope as a caretaker Leader, whilst the newer younger MPs get better known.

So, I live in hope, as we leaflet deliverers always do. It's official: I am now a Minger!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:13 am   2 comments
Friday, January 06, 2006
Time to rally around the party
by Peter

The message I hear from people around the Party at the moment is that they know a change has to be made. People who a day or so ago were Kennedy loyalists through and through (Chris Black, Peter Black, Stephen Tall - all in the links) are coming out and saying that the Party must come first.

Reading the comments on Politicalbetting you will find many Lib Dems saying they now understand why the Parliamentary Party appeared to be sending such unexpected signals. Personally I have always believed that NPs had the Party's best interests at heart. In a way it heartening to have this confirmed. On the other hand, it is desperately sad to find just how serious Kennedy's problems are. The need for colleagues to continue to exert pressure is an indication of this.

What next? I continue to think that some sort of caretaker leader would be best. The formula floated by Stephen Williams - that Campbell should take over until after the May elections - strikes me as realistic.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 11:20 pm   2 comments
There is more to life than politics

So Happy Birthday to Syd Barrett.

PS: there is no coded message here. Not even if you listen to it backwards.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:58 pm   0 comments
Beyond left and right
by Alex Sweet

It seems pretty clear that Kennedy cannot and will not be allowed to appear on a ballot paper for re-election. That would be an utter disaster; our MPs will not allow it. Other outcomes are still bad, but redeemable and with a silver lining. There are questions that Kennedy would never again be able to answer as leader.

I can't understand how one could want Kennedy to continue as leader now; I also think the other MPs have not behaved badly in very difficult circumstances. I hope that we can avoid needlessly damaging division as a party, and stay focused on winning elections and advancing a liberal approach against all the other parties with a contempt of core liberties. It would be especially damaging to take this opportunity to get hot under the collar and divided over so-called economic questions. Ultimately it is impossible to imagine the party ever ditch and disavow one half or the other of what are two approaches to policy with much smaller differences of principle than people like to pretend. Guess what, we're going to end up in a place where we proclaim to be 'beyond left and right', with an array of policy based on what actually works (according to evidence rather than Blair's gut feeling), with an economic team seeking to look as credible as possible, and with a pragmatic approach to public services that avoids being in hock to producer interests but clearly differentiates us from the other parties. The press will describe certain policies as "left wing" and other policies as "Orange Book inspired" but so what.

Anyone who feels like ripping apart the party or walking off in a huff in the process of getting from here to there should consider their motives carefully.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:05 am   1 comments
The Unity Candidate
by Steve Travis

Like Peter's posting below, this is a personal viewpoint.

Having thought long and hard about this, it is clear to me that Charles Kennedy cannot go on as leader. I can understand why he wants to - clearly, losing the party leadership, a big anchor in his life, must be an unsettling thought. But to go on without the support of some of the brightest and best of his front-bench spokesmen would be hugely damaging both to his leadership and to the party as a whole. Another problem is that for various reasons none of the main contenders seems suitable or wants to stand, given current circumstances.

The solution? "None of the above". Step forward one Jeremy John Durham (Paddy), Baron Ashdown, lately High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina who has just finished his tour with remarkably good timing. Paddy is popular, could hold the fort for 18 months, allow the policy review to be completed and some of the lesser lights to improve their experience and profiles (Huhne, Davy, Laws, Clegg). Indeed, being in the Lords would allow a rotation of Front Benchers to deputise for him in the Commons, where talent will out. We could then have an election in less fevered conditions and hopefully give our new leader a honeymoon period into the next election. There is of course a precedent for this, when Jo Grimond took the reins in 1976.

The King is dead; long live the King (of Bosnia-Herzegovina!).
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:44 am   5 comments
The frustration goes on
by Peter

This is a personal view - blame me if you don´t like it. I haven't discussed this with others.

Kennedy's announcement yesterday was the worst possible news for the Party. He has lost the confidence of his colleagues, and, in my view, a very considerable part of the membership. Drinking is one aspect of this - but none of us can know just how good a leader Kennedy might be if he did´'t drink. So it would be foolish to say that it is the only problem.

Many people have responded to the crisis by attacking the messengers. they may be right to do so - but they can't possibly be sure they are right. An alcohol problem is difficult for the person who suffers it. It is also bloody difficult for the people who surround him. Rob Knight, commenting on Liberal England has got this right, I think:

Let's, for the sake of argument, consider a hypothesis.

Kennedy has a drink problem. This problem is preventing him from fulfilling his duties, but nobody wants to say so publicly, partly because he's a genuinely nice chap and nobody wants to air his dirty washing in public.

This might be the reason behind the recent briefings; perhaps those briefing actually think Kennedy would be better off out of the job (think House of Cards, it's a "mercy killing", he was "in the trap and screaming from the moment he took office" etc.). Imagine being one of those who is confronted with the secret knowledge that Kennedy isn't up to the job, yet mindful of his public popularity and not wishing to do anything to harm it. What would you do?

The great pity is that, had Kennedy announced that he was going to stand down at any time, he would have done so with great respect for his leadership. He would be able to point to the best result etc etc...

Well there is still time. I hope that he uses the next couple of days to decide that the best thing for his health, family and future is to stand down now and allow the party to get on with choosing a successor.

I don't think it can be said often enough that the rest of the parliamentary party appear to have acted (perhaps too slowly) in the best interests of the party. Chris Davies took the right line on the Today programme this morning - again with the best interests of the party in mind.

When the election comes along (if there is an election - I don´t oppose the coronation scenario). I hope that we'll argue the issues rather than exchanging insults. The winner - whoever it is - will almost certainly be better than his/her opponents fear, and worse than his/her supporters hope.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 8:24 am   9 comments
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Comedy Duo
by Jabez Clegg

David: Michael, I’m ripping up all the policies we wrote together and rubbishing the beliefs that underpinned them.

Michael: Jolly well done!
posted by Apollo Project @ 4:58 pm   0 comments
Leader under attack from supporters
No, not that one!

Those who knew that Cameron had spent several years working for Michael Green at Carlton, the television company, could be forgiven for being surprised. Someone who had been in business wouldn't be so crass, would they? Wrong.

Cameron wasn't a businessman as such. He was a boardroom lackey, a combination of Green's bag carrier and a company spokesman, at a time when Carlton was making a monkey of itself by trying to take on Rupert Murdoch's Sky with Ondigital.

In those days, Cameron's idea of a good time was when no journalist rang him. If one did get through and suggested that Ondigital had a problem, Cameron would respond as if he was talking to the village idiot.

By his own admission, Cameron used to "stonewall" reporters and "be terse". No wonder poor old Green got such a pasting from the press.

Outside Carlton's fantasy zone, it was pretty clear from the outset that its digital service was going to be a monumental loser. Indeed, I remember being at a dinner when Sir Stanley (now Lord) Kalms, then chairman of Dixons, told Green that the trouble with Ondigital was, "having installed it at home, every time my doorbell rings, the toilet flushes".

In the hope that Ondigital could be saved by rebranding (does that sound familiar?), the business became ITV Digital. No chance. When it finally went bust in 2002, more than 1,000 people lost their jobs and 800,000 subscribers were left staring at blank screens.

Between them, Carlton and its Ondigital partner, Granada, burned about £1.2billion of shareholders' money. It was one of the most egregious destructions of British company value in recent times.

Green paid the price: he was booted out, after Carlton merged with Granada in 2003. By then, however, Cameron had long slipped away from the scene of the crash.

Today, Cameron's trade is politics. But never forget his corporate training. At Carlton, he only said what he meant when it was expedient to do so.

posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:58 pm   1 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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