The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Punch and Judy Politics – Child’s Play for Cameron and Osborne

Nick Robinson has big shoes to fill. His immediate predecessors in the role of BBC Chief Political Correspondent – John Cole, John Sergeant, even the New Labourish Andrew Marr – all had a certain gravity and authority that repetitious phrasing (“If only, if only” and “Can he? Can he?”) haven’t quite matched as yet. Still, he had it partly right on his Newsblog when he wrote:

So much for "No Punch and Judy!" Coming face-to-face with Gordon Brown for the first time, David Cameron leant across across the Despatch Box, shouted rather than spoke and pointed his finger.

This is rather true. Cameron evidently had almost nothing to say, and said it only for a very short period of time. The suspicion remains that it is not clear that his years advising Norman Lamont resulted in any detailed knowledge of either finance or economics, or whether his subsequent career as an ITV spin doctor and political adviser have ever trained him to master a detailed brief. Generously, Robinson went on to say:

There were lots of high quality Oxford Union-style gags at Gordon Brown's expense - "In a carbon conscious world we have a fossil fuel Chancellor" and "He's an anologue politician in a digital world".

Perhaps it is beside the point, but I have actually heard far funnier gags in the Oxford Union than the ones above. High quality these were not. In fact, they look really rather childish and not terribly effective playground jibes. A fossil fuel chancellor? Please! Analogue not digital? I can think of two digits response to that. If Gordon Brown had pigtails, David Cameron would have pulled them. But isn’t the real point here that this isn’t the Oxford Union? One is left with the feeling that Cameron is playing at politics, as if a mere game.

But the real joker yesterday was the hopelessly out of his depth George Osborne. On Newsnight last night (watch it here for the next few hours) he was asked by Paxman which bits of the budget he didn’t like. Lamely, Osborne explained that nothing new had really been said in the budget so he couldn’t think of any. Paxman, sensing blood, pushed on. As it turns out Osborne couldn’t actually name anything in the budget that he disagreed with, and seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Brown’s budget speech is a rather different thing to the Red Book which details the budget – this year’s is three hundred and four pages long. Surely George disagreed with some of the content? Well, I daresay he might – had he read some of it - but as he couldn’t articulate any criticisms at all he should seriously question why people should think him competent to run the British economy. It is perhaps worthwhile pointing out once again that George Osborne is a man who has no formal economic training and has never worked in either the public or the private sectors.

On this evidence, as long as Cameron and Osborne are at the Conservative helm there is no chance of the Conservatives regaining a reputation for competent financial and economic management – and on that basis alone, they are not going to win the next General Election with Big Gordie on the other side of the bench.

[posted by Simon]

posted by Apollo Project @ 4:31 pm   0 comments
Budget Bore
by Peter

It would be over-the-top and old-fashioned to accuse a Labour Chancellor of sounding like a soviet commissar, so I will quote Martin Wolf rather than make up anything of my own. Here he is:

as I tried to stay awake during his Budget speech, I understood what it was like to listen to a Soviet commissar delivering a discourse on prospects for the tractor sector.

This was the speech of a man with a plan for every cranny of British life – for children, childcare, skills, education, science, the environment, enterprise, economic development and even Olympic athletes (this being the most Soviet moment of all). Some of Mr Brown’s plans are sensible. Some look absurd. But what remains missing is an overall strategy for reform of the public sector or, equally important, of the tax system, under a putative Brown premiership.


There is something in this. Listening to Brown one was struck by how much he believes the State has to wade in to save us from ourselves. We were being tinkered with - just like the nation's finances:

this Budget amounts to next to nothing. On an indexed base, the fiscal policy decisions add a mere £415m in extra tax in 2007-08 and £705m in 2008-09, after a giveaway of just £380m in 2006-07. Individual measures are tiny: the biggest for next year is the £275m cost of failing to adjust fuel duty for inflation until September 1 2006.


Brown was most interested to manage the public when he talked about training

Mr Brown remains a man obsessed with quantitative targets for inputs and outputs, rather than a man who has internalised either the role of incentives or the deep uncertainty about the future. No passage from the speech better illustrates these failings than this: “Today the British economy has just 9m highly skilled jobs. By 2020 it will need 14m highly skilled workers. And of 3.4m unskilled jobs today, we will need only 600,000 by 2020.”

This is Soviet tractor planning at its ludicrous worst. Fifteen years ago, no one imagined the current economic role of the internet, for example. Yet the chancellor now dares to tell us the precise number of highly skilled and unskilled people the economy will “need” 15 years hence. In fact, he has no idea how many skilled people the economy will need (or, more precisely, demand) by then. Such “plans” are not worth the paper they are written on.


So that's it fro the FT. Brown is competent but boringly compete net, interested in managing the public rather than managing the State. Labour's big problem just now - and for the years to come - is the NHS. All that money has brought surprisingly little improvement - in spite of the that (rather soviet style) Healthcare Commission designed to ensure it was well spent. All of which brings to mind a Scottish expression about best-laid plans...

There are no easy answers for any of this - and the correct response is unlikely to be to spend more still.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:10 pm   0 comments
Monday, March 20, 2006
Man Bites Dog!
Apollo launches its very own Tabloid.
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:36 pm   1 comments
Friday, March 17, 2006
The Education Bill and the British Political System
by Simon

A common argument for the First Past the Post electoral system in the United Kingdom is that it usually provides operational Parliamentary majorities for the winning party in a General Election, which in turn leads to stable government. It is true that in the period from 1945 to the present only one short-lived Parliament in 1974 has been without an overall majority from the outset and Governments have generally been able to get their legislation enacted.

A common argument offered against proportional electoral systems is that sometimes they do not provide operational majorities for the party with the most number of seats following an election, which in turn leads to unstable government, encourages horse-trading for votes, and discourages radical legislation and reform.

I heard Frank Field on the BBC News the night before last arguing that it was perfectly reasonable for Tony Blair to get support for the recent Education Bill from wherever it was forthcoming, including from the Conservatives. Frank Field is usually seen as being in favour of radical reform. Backbench Labour opposition to the Education Bill was because they thought it too radical (or radical in the wrong direction at any rate).

The Labour Government, of course, eventually had to rely on Conservative votes to pass the Bill. It seems clear that a Parliamentary majority of 66 - at one time considered to be a thumping majority - is not large enough for the current Prime Minister and the current Labour party in Government to guarantee to be able govern (i.e., command an operational majority). This is not to say that a different Labour Prime Minister would be unable to pilot similarly radical legislation with the same or even a reduced majority. The same can be said, perhaps, for a hypothetical Conservative Prime Minister. However, it is worth pondering the propensity within ALL parties to dissent from the leadership - and the increasingly incongruous agglomerations of disparate perspectives incorporated within those parties. Can we see the Cornerstone Group, for example, agreeing with a Cameroonian Butskellite consensus agenda? Can we see the Labour left following Brown into the lobbies when they realise he is not of the same position as them? Will corporate-state Lib Dems gladly follow a more market-oriented Liberal leadership?

No system of rules that seem to govern a political ecology last forever. All systems evolve. New rules are created and old assumptions must be cast aside. The Blair-Cameron accommodation over education paves the way for the kind of horse-trading needed to sustain coalition Government.

And so, one of the main arguments in favour of First Past the Post - that it provides meaningful governing majorities and stable government - falls away, just at the moment that the argument that radical reform cannot be sustained by operational coalitions begins to disintegrate also.

Those in favour of electoral reform won a big victory this week. They just didn't notice.
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:04 pm   2 comments
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
No reason to panic...yet.
by Peter

Just the other day I was reflecting on Cameron's first 100 days as Tory leader.

I was not all that impressed:
I think the Tories would have expected rather more: Cameron on paper is a more attractive figure than Howard; the other parties have been in considerable trouble during much of this period; and Cameron ought to be having a baby bounce (or have the Great British Public sated their appetitie for politicians with babies).


And frankly one of the issues that has bemused me is the extent to which he has got the press coverage as new and dynamic, with little to show that he is really having any impact.

The latest opinion poll will make it harder to retain that sort of press support: The Tories are back in their box.

The latest ICM poll (according to polioticalbetting has them on 34%. Where have they got under Cameron? Nowhere!

The Tories have not yet started to panic. They have set up a working group involving Bob Geldof and Zak Goldsmith, and this working group will advise them when the panic should begin.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 10:12 pm   2 comments
The deputy leadership contest
By Peter


Iain Dale has a post on the contest to become Deputy Leader.

This is not a contest that is keeping me awake at night - Jack Garner's words on the Vice Presidency come to mind - but Iain seems to be offering odds of 25/1 on David Heath - and I might put a fiver on that.

He does not mention Malcom Bruce, who stood last time, and always strikes me as a good performer and safe pair of hands. But I thought that when Malcolm stood for the Leadership too, and the rest of the Party failed to follow my lead.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:17 pm   0 comments
Childcare is not "just a woman's issue"
by Steve Travis Nick Assinder raises the issue of a Commons Creche, but chooses to portray this as solely a female issue. I'm sure I am not the only man in the world who, along with his partner, has made the issue of child-raising a joint decision. In practical terms, as we both have demanding careers, that means a difficult balancing act cum timetabling exercise as we juggle our professional diaries around our childcare provision. Typically it means my wife works an early day in order to pick the children up, and I work a late day so that I can drop them off. The question we should be asking is why aren't male MPs looking to make this an issue too? Its a sad indicment of our "Obsessive" working culture that, in its worst form, means that any attempt at a normal family life has to be brushed under the carpet. Thankfully, far away from the notice of those who run government and business, a quiet revolution has been taking place. Perhaps in 10-20 years time when those fathers are setting the workplace culture as decision makers at the tops of businesses and government, they will remember what it was like for them and respond accordingly. Sadly, it seems we will have to wait that long.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 1:34 pm   1 comments
Sunday, March 12, 2006
1906 and all that - Part 1
by Steve Travis

Prompted by the anniversary of the Liberal Landslide, adn a recent foray into genealogical research, I have just finished Paul Thompson's excellent The Edwardians. Written originally 30 years ago, and the product of nearly 500 interviews with (then) living Edwardians, it gives some insight into the lives lived 100 years ago. In an occasional series I will dip into this work to look at the differences and, in many cases, surprising similarities with today.

First up is the Conservative Party which, like the poor, seems destined to always be with us.

The Conservatives, who were in power from 1895 until 1905, based their electoral strength on the middle class vote. Although there was still an important Liberal minority in the middle classes, the stage had been reached when a Yorkshire small businessman who was a Liberal town councillor could be regarded as indiscreet for so acting aganist his own natural interests:'people used to tell him that as a businessman he had no business to be so outright a Liberal.' But the middle-class vote was insufficient to win victory alone. In addition the Conservatives secured between on-third and one-half of the working-class vote. It was a working-class vote that asserted the essential unity rather than antagonism of class interests. Hence the Conservatives were significantly least succesful in those regions where the middle-class presence was weakest: the north, Scotland and Wales.

There were, however, areas of active working-class Conservatism to be found in Lancashire. It was fed by the hostility felt for the large enclaves of Irish Catholics who supported the Liberals. Here, in contrast to their methods anywhere else, local Conservative parties were organised on a dual basis, with democratic federations based on the Conservative Working Men's Clubs alongside the usual exclusive party Constitutionalist Associations. Similarly, although with less active working-class participation, the Conservatives were able to profit from the fears brought by the waves of Jewish immigration into east London in the late C19th and early C20th. In the last years before 1914 a new populist radical minority in the party sought to woo 'the man in the street' with a combined campaign against the Irish, intellectuals, Jews, 'money-bags' and corruption.

It strikes me as remarkable how many strains of Conservative thought are actively recognisable in this characterisation of the party from 100 years ago. Perhaps it should not - human nature being what it is. But food for thought, and some pointers about the direction the party may take once again.
posted by Apollo Project @ 8:57 pm   0 comments
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
A Spring in our Step
by Steve Travis

I received today my thank-you letter from the Member for Sutton & Cheam for my (modest) contribution to the election of Sir Menzies Campbell as leader. Spring might not yet be in the air, but there was a spring in my step today. There is a palpable sense of momentum about the party once again. At long last we have the prospect of a coherent policy programme. Ming's shadow appointments set a clear marker about our future direction. Predictably, there have been noises off from the usual suspects, but even this can't spoil the moment.

I would imagine I'm not alone in relishing the prospect of campaigning on the sort of programme Ming will put together. This must be in stark contrast to thousands of Tory activists, faced with having to "sell" Cameron's pale imitation of New Labour - a programme with which they have little in common. For it would be the most pyrhhic of victories for them in the (unlikely) event that the Conservatives were to be elected on such a programme.

The icing on the cake is the return of Lord Ashdown. The future's bright ...
posted by Apollo Project @ 9:50 pm   6 comments
Our day out in Liverpool
The children enoyed themselves yesterday on their class visit to Liverpool.

They even got their photograph in a local newspaper.

This is what they said:

Voters deserted the Tories in droves in the 1980s, blaming Margaret Thatcher's policies for Liverpool's decline - and most have never returned.

The party has no MPs in Merseyside and no city councillors.

Last week, the Tory candidate was beaten into last place by the British National Party at a council by- election in Waterloo.


That was very exciting!

But there was a surprise for us

"I cannot say everyone I met was a card-carrying Conservative member!!!"
I told the nice man from the local paper. (Fortunately he didn't interrupt me the way some of them do - although he did find it hard to understand my accent).

Everything went rather well. Most of the children were well behaved, although some of them did mutter rather a lot on the way back home.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:52 pm   0 comments
Monday, March 06, 2006
School trip to Liverpool
Dave: Come on! We're late!
Shadow Cabinet: Where are we going?
Dave: To Liverpool
Shadow Cabinet:Why? Has Boris got to apologise again?
Dave: Stop muttering and get in the coach! Have you remembered your packed lunch?
Shadow Cabinet: Why do we need a packed lunch? Aren't we going to have lunch with our Liverpool MPs?
Dave: We haven't got any, you clot!
Shadow Cabinet: Well, with our Councillors then?
Dave: (reaches for detention book)
Shadow Cabinet: Sorreee!
Dave: Just get in the coach, and no muttering!
Shadow Cabinet: Well if we haven't got any Councillors and we haven't got any MPs, What are we going to do in Liverpool?
Dave: We are going to go canvassing.
Shadow Cabinet: what good will that do?
Dave: I've got it all worked out. If each of us can just convice two Liverpudlians to vote Conservative...
Shadow Cabinet: Yes?
Dave: Well, we will just about double our vote. Now get in the coach and STOP MUTTERING!
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 1:01 pm   1 comments
Sunday, March 05, 2006
So hip, so trendy, those cool conservatives
Damien Green is in the Observer this morning, telling us how much the Tories have changed.

His speciality is immigration. He doesn't exactly apologise for baseless scaremongering and pandering to racism, but is prepared to admit that
Maybe the tone has been too harsh.

So now the Tories welcome immigrants, nothing against immigrants, fine people immigrants. Got it?

But of course he has to be mad about something. So now he is mad about statistics. He expresses this, well, madness with a stunningly fatuous comparison:

Here are a few things the government does not know. It cannot say how many people are living here illegally. It comes up with a figure of somewhere between 310,000 and 570,000. If the Chancellor told us he was taking somewhere between 31p and 57p in the pound in taxation and couldn't be more accurate than that, he would be out on his ear.

If a Chancellor told us that a particular tax was probably going to raise 440 million, but that on pessimistic assumptions the tax take might be as low as 310 Million, and on optimistic assumptions as high as 570 million (a rather better analogy, if I say so myself) then I do not think anyone would give a damn.

But what does Damien Green want? Apparently he wants the collation of an enormous quantity of statistics wherever an immigrant/illegal immigrant/asylum seeker might come into contact with the the public services:

What about figures which must be available to the authorities, because they involve those receiving a public service? How many children of temporary migrants are currently in state schools? How many temporary migrants are receiving NHS treatment?


So this is the new liberal conservatism. Not mad about immigrants, but bonkers for immigration statistcs - and prepared to make it a little bit more difficult for anyone who just might be an illiegal immigrant to use public services in orde to get them.

Thanks but no thanks, Damien...
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 4:02 pm   0 comments
Friday, March 03, 2006
ForMing, NorMing, StorMing, PerforMing!
by Steve Travis

Congratulations to Sir Menzies Campbell on a hard-won victory in the leadership election. In deference to the four phases of team-building alluded to in the title, I'd like to take the presumption of offering him some advice on the immediate priorities requiring attention:

- Restructure the parliamentary team. Focus on maybe half a dozen (at most) key departments, and ensure that those chosen for these briefs are strong candidates. We should aim to get our stars in the media as much as possible.

- Give the party's professional structure a complete overhaul. Evaluate the performance of all departments, restructure and reform with a more focussed professional team.

- Media relations. We must construct a more potent media strategy, and that should include (if it doesn't already) training on how to deal with the media. Too many recent banana skins here.

- Set the narrative. Decide on the 5 key themes that make our party distinctive and keep pressing the message.

- Focussed policy. Back up the narrative with a cohesive, slim, but powerful policy platform that reinforces our core values.

And above all, be Merciless in your commitment to Liberalism!
posted by Apollo Project @ 10:52 am   1 comments
Thursday, March 02, 2006
The result you've been waiting for
by Stephen Tall

The votes have been counted, and it's now time to declare the winner... of The Apollo Project's Liberal Democrat leadership prediction competition.

Twenty-two entries were received, and our collective punditry was a good pointer to the eventual outcome. This is what our entrants predicted would be the result:

Turn-out = 68%
First round: Ming Campbell (38%), Chris Huhne (34%), Simon Hughes (28%)
Second round: Ming Campbell (52%), Chris Huhne (38%), Simon Hughes (9%)
And this is the result as recorded on the Liberal Democrat
website
:

Turn-out = 72%
First round: Ming Campbell (45%), Chris Huhne (32%), Simon Hughes (23%)
Second round: Ming Campbell (58%), Chris Huhne (42%),

The scoring system for the competition was straightforward: I summed the differences between our entrants' predictions and the actual result – the lower your score, the more accurate you were.

The clear winner was Peter, one of The Apollo Project's co-founders, whose prediction of:

Turn-out = 72%
First round: Ming Campbell (44%), Chris Huhne (30%), Simon Hughes (26%)
Second round: Ming Campbell (57%), Chris Huhne (43%),

gave him a score of 8. The five runners-up were: Paul Linford (14), Icarus (22), Stephen Tall (23), Alastair Mckinnon (24) and Joe Otten (25).
posted by Apollo Project @ 6:16 pm   0 comments
 
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.

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