Tag Archives: Liberal Democrats

Calamity Clegg Closes Down Electoral Reform

I’ve left commenting on the result of the AV referendum so late because, to be honest, I haven’t had the heart to put pen to paper, or should I say fingers to keyboard.

As regular readers of this blog will know, electoral reform is a cause I have campaigned for over many years. It now looks to have been stopped for in its tracks for many more years to come. I take no joy in pointing out how appalling Nick Clegg’s judgment has been on this matter.

I wrote a post here in September 2009 which is a little prescient looking back now. Gordon Brown had just committed the Labour Party to AV and this became part of Labour’s subsequent manifesto. I argued then that the way to secure electoral reform would be for the Liberal Democrats to work with another party which had the same objective. Quite why Nick Clegg and others thought the Conservatives would not fight a hard campaign against AV is beyond me. There is a touching naivety in their complaints about lies and negative campaigning. Can these Lib-Dem politicians be the very ones who used to put flakey bar charts on their election leaflets inflating Liberal Democrat chances of winning, not to mention their penchant for dirty campaigns when necessary? I have experienced negative Liberal and Liberal Democrat campaigns for 30 years.  Now they’re on the receiving end of criticism they seem quite unable to take it on board.

I remember saying in 2009 that almost every seat the Liberal Democrats won in 2005 from Labour had a substantial student population who voted for them as a result of the cocktail of Iraq and university tuition fees, which, of course, no longer exists. How true this proved.  In the 2010 General Election Liberal Democrats gained two seats from Labour – Redcar and Burnley. Both of these gains were based on local issues and campaigns.

What is more, the shattering Scottish and Welsh results last week show that any Liberal Democrat in a seat with a large student population should immediately start looking for alternative career prospects. Now with first past the post re-established the only question surely is whether the Liberal Democrats lose a half, two-thirds or maybe even more of their current seats. Nick Clegg in the 12 months before the 2010 General Election fantasised that the Liberal Democrats would make considerable gains from Labour. In the end Labour gained one seat overall from the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg’s strategic mistake was of monumental proportions. He could have seized an opportunity to work with Labour to secure AV. Labour made a manifesto commitment that would have seen Liberal Democrats at the next election hold perhaps 80 seats, now it is likely to be 20. That’s a massive blow to any party. I am unconcerned about Liberal Democrat prospects but I did want to secure a fairer voting system. So like many Liberal Democrat activists I am very disappointed at how badly Nick Clegg misjudged matters.

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Rank Hypocrisy from the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats in north London have been asking people to sign a petition against Camden Council’s proposed library closures.

As a Camden resident I was particularly concerned to be contacted by a constituent. They informed me that last Saturday they had been approached outside the Tesco on England’s Lane, Belsize Park, by a member of the Lib Dems who had asked them to sign the petition.

Apparently a number of people were refusing to sign and pointing out (some quite angrily) to the activists that it was highly hypocritical given that the Liberal Democrats involvement in the Tory led coalition government that is responsible for the dramatic and far reaching cuts.

For years the Liberal Democrats have been able to act in opposition to any undesirable cuts at local and national level, safe in the knowledge that they were in no way responsible or answerable for the decision.  It seems that some within the party have not woken up yet to their new political reality.

Some members of the Lib Dems are living in denial.  If they believe, as I do, that these cuts are poorly thought out and go too far, that they are going to do lasting and irreparable damage to our communities, then it seems like they have one choice: leave the Liberal Democrats, join the Labour party, and start fighting for a fairer deal for our country.

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Best wishes to Debbie Abrahams in Oldham East and Saddleworth

While it would be folly to claim victory prematurely in Oldham East and Saddleworth, there’s no doubt it’s looking good for Labour. The latest polls point to a comfortable Labour victory and by a margin much larger than that achieved at the 2010 general election.

Polls conducted by ICM and Populus both placed Labour 17 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats. ICM put Labour on 44%, the Lib Dems on 27%, the Tories on 18% and others on 12%. Populus put Labour on 46%, the Lib Dems on 29%, the Tories on 15% and others on 10%.Labour selects candidate for Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election

And Labour has a woman candidate, Debbie Abrahams who was Labour’s candidate in Colne Valley at this year’s general election. If and when elected she will be a huge asset in Westminster. A public health consultant, a former director of public health research at Liverpool University and the former chair of Rochdale primary care trust she is set to make a truly valuable contribution. Health is, after all, Labour’s flagship policy area where we must do all we can to fight the Tory-led coalition’s cuts.

What is more, Debbie lives in Oldham who has promised to deliver the best possible deal for local people.

There are currently 95 female Labour MPs – three times the number of those in all other parties put together. However, according to the Fawcett Society it would still take Labour 20 years to get an equal gender split in the House of Commons.

If you think that’s bad, the Liberal Democrats would need twice that amount of time.  But, as ever, it’s the Tories who have the real problem; they would need 400 years before they had the same number of women as male MPs.

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Consensus on the Coalition’s UK-EU Relationship at Kingston University

You would have thought that three MEPs from three different political parties debating the relationship between the present British government and the European Union would have been fraught with heated debate, not to say downright disagreement.

Not so on Saturday afternoon at Kingston University when Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, Jean Lambert MEP from the Green Party and I discussed the issue with a group of students. It was unfortunate there was no representative from the Liberal-Democrats as this may have added a different perspective.

My view is that the UK has always had a semi-detached relationship with the EU whichever party is in power. Tony Blair talked about being at the heart of Europe but failed to take the UK into the Euro.  In addition, we are not in the Schengen agreement, which, amongst other things, does away with passports.

However, there would appear to be a fault line in the present Coalition government in that the Tories have a strong and vociferous Eurosceptic wing while one of the defining characteristics of the Liberal Democrats has always been that they are enthusiastically pro-European.

This is, I’m sure, one of the reasons David Cameron has accepted the EU Council of Ministers decision that the EU budget should rise by 2.9% this year rather than pushing for the freeze demanded by his Eurosceptic wing.  It’s also one of the reasons he is not putting Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Angela Merkel’s demands for a change to the Lisbon Treaty to allow greater stability for the Euro to a referendum in this country. (You will remember that a referendum on any EU treaty change was one of the Tories’ manifesto promises in the 2010 general election).

What is, however very clear is that much more power now resides in the EU. The Lisbon Treaty extended this and the establishment of the EU External Action Service only underlines the extent of EU’s reach.

Both Charles and Jean largely agreed with this analysis. Charles Tannock, a supporter of further EU enlargement, talked about the benefits of EU membership concentrating on trade and the economy.  He also pointed out that the increasing use of English within the EU, which received an enormous boost after the 2004 enlargement, gave the British a big advantage.

Jean raised an interesting point about the rise of fringe parties in the UK such as UKIP and the BNP and elsewhere, notably the Tea Party in the United States. Manistream parties should learn from these new movements, what Jean called “angry politics”. While maybe not exactly related to the Coalition government and the EU-UK relationship it was a powerful and important point.

My thanks to the organisers of the event from Kingston University – Dr Atsuko Ichijo, Dr Robin Pettitt and Dr Elizabeth Evans for putting on an excellent programme and also for giving up their Saturday afternoon.

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Hague full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Wiliam Hague was most interesting at the Conservative Party Conference.  I have watched the Tories’ movements regarding Europe very closely since they formed the Coalition and as a result found his speech very enlightening.

As we all know, the Conservatives had to drop most of their Eurosceptic election promises so that Nick Clegg, who for all his faults is at least pro-European, would be able to justify forming a government with them.  Since then the coalition government, far from standing up to what some Tories might call the encroaching powers of the EU, has accepted many new laws from Brussels, including one which hands some powers over financial transactions to the European Commission.

It is, however, becoming increasingly evident that there are those in the Tory party who are very unhappy with the way things are going with Europe.  And it was such a promising start for the Europsceptics. David Cameron took the Tories out of the EPP, the centre right political grouping in the European Parliament. (Tory MEPs then  formed an alliance with far right elements whom Nick Clegg described as a “bunch of nutters”). Cameron also promised to repatriate various powers to do with employment law.

In an attempt to assuage the Eurosceptics’ doubts, William Hague made an impassioned speech to the Conservative party conference that outlined plans to introduce a sovereignty clause on to the statute books in the United Kingdom asserting that EU law only has primacy in the UK because the government allows it to be that way.  He also made some forceful comments about governments being able to “undo” the things they have done. 

All well and good for playing to the Eurosceptic core in the Tories you might think, but unfortunately, if we believe what the Daily Mail has reported, many of them aren’t buying this entirely superficial gesture.  The Mail has a quotation from a Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, saying ‘This is politicians using clever words to appear to be preventing further European integration when they are not.’ 

Attention has so far focused on the internal strife within the Lib-Dems as a result of their involvment in the Coalition.  William Hague has now shown that Europe is proving, as predicted, a difficult issue for the Tories.  In the not too distant past, European issues almost undid John Major’s government leaving him significantly weakened.  If David Cameron has any political antennae left, he will be desperate not to have Europe anywhere near any agenda. However, the decision doesn’t seem to be down to him but rather his restless grass roots.

Seemingly, Wiliam Hague’s attempts to placate the Eurosceptic wing of their party aren’t working quite as well as they might have hoped, as they can see it for what it is, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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Honeyball’s weekly round up

Four in ten regret voting Lib Dem. This survey, by pollsters ComRes, exclusively for the Sunday Mirror is without doubt a damming blow for Nick Clegg, as their first party conference kicks off since they formed a coalition government he can expect to face the wrath of many activists unhappy at his new alliance. The Sunday Mirror claims that this latest set of statistics is the worst result of any ComRes poll completed since the election. You can read the full article  here in the Sunday Mirror. 

 

It will be a difficult time for Clegg as he will undoubtedly be faced with questions from disgruntled party faithful who could never have envisaged their party forming such a close alliance with the Tories. He has an enormous task ahead of him, and that is to appeal to his members to support the coalition government which will, he claims be a “great, great, reforming government.”  The Observer’s political editor has a big piece in today’s paper which you can read here. 

President Sarkozy found himself in hot water once again this week following his decision to deport Roma gypsies from France despite the European Parliament demanding an end to the policy. But there were harsh words between The French President who was angry over comments made by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding who appeared to compare France’s actions to persecutions in Nazi-occupied France. 

He said of her words: “The disgusting and shameful words that were used – World War II, the evocation of the Jews – was something that shocked us deeply.” I did a blog on it earlier in the week which you can read here and you can read the BBC report here

I was disappointed to read in today’s paper that Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has given a civil service post to the daughter of a business associate who, the paper claims, is also a Tory party donor. The move has ‘raised eyebrows’ in Whitehall. She was made his parliamentary assistant in his private office two years ago but in May was given a job within the Department for Culture Media and Sport on a fixed term civil service contract. You can read the full article here in today’s Observer. 

 

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Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.

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