UK decision to stop migrant rescue operations attacked by Teather (“unethical”) and Ashdown (“inhuman”), defended by Clegg (“Italian decision”)

by Stephen Tall on October 31, 2014

Conservative home office minister James Brokenshire defended the Government’s decision to withdraw support – along with all other EU member states – for future search-and-rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean. The BBC reports:

James Brokenshire told MPs the change would “save lives rather than putting them in peril.” About 3,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. That is out of an estimated total of 150,000 to have made the trip by boat across to Europe. Mr Brokenshire said operations to rescue migrants encouraged more people to make the “perilous journey” across the Mediterranean in the hope of being granted asylum. He said the “despicable work” of human traffickers had made the problem much worse, and must be tackled. On the new approach, he added it was “inconceivable to suggest that if a boat were in peril, that support would not be provided”.

Italian officials have made clear they intend to scale down their government’s current operation, known as Mare Nostrum, as the EU introduces a new operation known as Triton. Triton will focus more on border control – tasks such as vetting asylum seekers once they are ashore, and coastal patrols – rather than search and rescue in international waters. Mr Brokenshire said that 28 EU member states had “unanimously agreed” to the new proposals, and criticised those attacking the policy for seeking to “politicise” the issue.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather was not impressed by the minister’s defence:

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): Claiming that rescuing people from drowning in the sea is somehow a pull factor for people who are fleeing war is an absurd and deeply unethical thing for the Government to do. Can the Government not see that more people are travelling because half of the middle east is burning? Has the Minister not seen the advice of his own Foreign Office? We cannot wash our hands of these people, Pontius Pilate-style. If we are to prevent people from boarding rickety boats and drowning at sea, we will have to work with our European colleagues and find safe routes of travel. Can the Minister not see that he has lost any sense of ethical reasoning here?

James Brokenshire: I entirely reject the analysis that my hon. Friend seeks to proffer in this regard. No one is turning a blind eye to humanitarian issues or needs. The purpose of the actions being taken is to put fewer lives at risk, and I am sorry that she is unable to accept the clear purpose of what we are undertaking. On the idea that boats in need of assistance would simply be ignored, I point her to the head of Frontex who said that if a boat in distress is spotted, rescue is the top priority. I am sure that that is precisely what will happen.

And neither was Paddy Ashdown, speaking in the House of Lords:

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, it pains me to say to my noble friends that this is a discreditable policy, whatever words are used to describe it. We do not find it difficult to disagree with the European Union on all sorts of other matters, but do we have to lay our hand to a European policy whose central proposition is that the best way to discourage people from seeking a better life is to leave them to drown in the Mediterranean? This is inhuman, it is discreditable and it may well be contrary to our duties under international law to do everything we can to save those in peril on the sea.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord comes to this with huge experience and understanding. However, those obligations which are there under the laws of the sea, maritime law and humanitarian law will remain as obligations on any vessels that actually come across people who are making this journey. The question is how we tackle this increasing trend effectively. This is not for the UK alone; this view was pored over on the basis of evidence, intelligence and information which came to the Justice and Home Affairs Council. All 28 member states agreed—which, as my noble friend suggested, is a pretty rare achievement—that, regrettably, this was having a counterproductive effect.

Nick Clegg’s line on Call Clegg was different, arguing this was primarily a decision for the Italian government:

… let’s be really clear, this was a decision taken by the Italian Government, it wasn’t taken unilaterally by the Home Office, it was the Italian Government who are quite literally on the kind of front line, if you like, there. They are the Mediterranean State concerned, they are having to address this challenge of large numbers of people risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean often in makeshift boats, to get to Italy. And they decided that they didn’t want to continue with the search and rescue missions that went out there, ’cause their judgement was that it wasn’t helping to address the problems. So I mean, I know the Government has come under some criticism for accepting that Italian decision, in a European Union wide decision. I think it would have been quite curious for us to say, well hang on a minute, Italy, you can’t take that decision, and we’re somehow gonna kind of undercut you on that.

As for longer term solutions, Nick had this to say:

… we must play our part as a country to make sure that people want to stay put in their home country, and not illegally and very dangerously, try and move great distances to other countries. And that’s why, I know it’s controversial, but I think it is right for us as a country, to take an international lead and say, we are devoting 0.7 per cent of our national wealth to help countries develop their own economies, so that people have got a sense of optimism and hope in their own countries, and they don’t seek to flee elsewhere. The other thing we need to do, is we do need to work across the European Union, which is by the way, the context in which this decision was taken, to make sure that we know how to deal with people who seek asylum. We are, of course, not a Mediterranean country, and when people, individuals, see asylum, they do so, they lodge that appeal in the first country they arrive in. But I think there’s no, in the long run, there’s no surrogate, but to make sure there are the conditions in North Africa and elsewhere, which encourage people to stay put. But on this individual decision about search and rescue parties, I think it’s not for us to second guess the Italian government’s stance on that.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

UK decision to stop migrant rescue operations attacked by Teather (“unethical”) and Ashdown (“inhuman”), defended by Clegg (“Italian decision”)

by Stephen Tall on October 31, 2014

Conservative home office minister James Brokenshire defended the Government’s decision to withdraw support – along with all other EU member states – for future search-and-rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean. The BBC reports:

James Brokenshire told MPs the change would “save lives rather than putting them in peril.” About 3,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. That is out of an estimated total of 150,000 to have made the trip by boat across to Europe. Mr Brokenshire said operations to rescue migrants encouraged more people to make the “perilous journey” across the Mediterranean in the hope of being granted asylum. He said the “despicable work” of human traffickers had made the problem much worse, and must be tackled. On the new approach, he added it was “inconceivable to suggest that if a boat were in peril, that support would not be provided”.

Italian officials have made clear they intend to scale down their government’s current operation, known as Mare Nostrum, as the EU introduces a new operation known as Triton. Triton will focus more on border control – tasks such as vetting asylum seekers once they are ashore, and coastal patrols – rather than search and rescue in international waters. Mr Brokenshire said that 28 EU member states had “unanimously agreed” to the new proposals, and criticised those attacking the policy for seeking to “politicise” the issue.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather was not impressed by the minister’s defence:

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): Claiming that rescuing people from drowning in the sea is somehow a pull factor for people who are fleeing war is an absurd and deeply unethical thing for the Government to do. Can the Government not see that more people are travelling because half of the middle east is burning? Has the Minister not seen the advice of his own Foreign Office? We cannot wash our hands of these people, Pontius Pilate-style. If we are to prevent people from boarding rickety boats and drowning at sea, we will have to work with our European colleagues and find safe routes of travel. Can the Minister not see that he has lost any sense of ethical reasoning here?

James Brokenshire: I entirely reject the analysis that my hon. Friend seeks to proffer in this regard. No one is turning a blind eye to humanitarian issues or needs. The purpose of the actions being taken is to put fewer lives at risk, and I am sorry that she is unable to accept the clear purpose of what we are undertaking. On the idea that boats in need of assistance would simply be ignored, I point her to the head of Frontex who said that if a boat in distress is spotted, rescue is the top priority. I am sure that that is precisely what will happen.

And neither was Paddy Ashdown, speaking in the House of Lords:

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, it pains me to say to my noble friends that this is a discreditable policy, whatever words are used to describe it. We do not find it difficult to disagree with the European Union on all sorts of other matters, but do we have to lay our hand to a European policy whose central proposition is that the best way to discourage people from seeking a better life is to leave them to drown in the Mediterranean? This is inhuman, it is discreditable and it may well be contrary to our duties under international law to do everything we can to save those in peril on the sea.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord comes to this with huge experience and understanding. However, those obligations which are there under the laws of the sea, maritime law and humanitarian law will remain as obligations on any vessels that actually come across people who are making this journey. The question is how we tackle this increasing trend effectively. This is not for the UK alone; this view was pored over on the basis of evidence, intelligence and information which came to the Justice and Home Affairs Council. All 28 member states agreed—which, as my noble friend suggested, is a pretty rare achievement—that, regrettably, this was having a counterproductive effect.

Nick Clegg’s line on Call Clegg was different, arguing this was primarily a decision for the Italian government:

… let’s be really clear, this was a decision taken by the Italian Government, it wasn’t taken unilaterally by the Home Office, it was the Italian Government who are quite literally on the kind of front line, if you like, there. They are the Mediterranean State concerned, they are having to address this challenge of large numbers of people risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean often in makeshift boats, to get to Italy. And they decided that they didn’t want to continue with the search and rescue missions that went out there, ’cause their judgement was that it wasn’t helping to address the problems. So I mean, I know the Government has come under some criticism for accepting that Italian decision, in a European Union wide decision. I think it would have been quite curious for us to say, well hang on a minute, Italy, you can’t take that decision, and we’re somehow gonna kind of undercut you on that.

As for longer term solutions, Nick had this to say:

… we must play our part as a country to make sure that people want to stay put in their home country, and not illegally and very dangerously, try and move great distances to other countries. And that’s why, I know it’s controversial, but I think it is right for us as a country, to take an international lead and say, we are devoting 0.7 per cent of our national wealth to help countries develop their own economies, so that people have got a sense of optimism and hope in their own countries, and they don’t seek to flee elsewhere. The other thing we need to do, is we do need to work across the European Union, which is by the way, the context in which this decision was taken, to make sure that we know how to deal with people who seek asylum. We are, of course, not a Mediterranean country, and when people, individuals, see asylum, they do so, they lodge that appeal in the first country they arrive in. But I think there’s no, in the long run, there’s no surrogate, but to make sure there are the conditions in North Africa and elsewhere, which encourage people to stay put. But on this individual decision about search and rescue parties, I think it’s not for us to second guess the Italian government’s stance on that.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

UK decision to stop migrant rescue operations attacked by Teather (“unethical”) and Ashdown (“inhuman”), defended by Clegg (“Italian decision”)

by Stephen Tall on October 31, 2014

Conservative home office minister James Brokenshire defended the Government’s decision to withdraw support – along with all other EU member states – for future search-and-rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean. The BBC reports:

James Brokenshire told MPs the change would “save lives rather than putting them in peril.” About 3,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. That is out of an estimated total of 150,000 to have made the trip by boat across to Europe. Mr Brokenshire said operations to rescue migrants encouraged more people to make the “perilous journey” across the Mediterranean in the hope of being granted asylum. He said the “despicable work” of human traffickers had made the problem much worse, and must be tackled. On the new approach, he added it was “inconceivable to suggest that if a boat were in peril, that support would not be provided”.

Italian officials have made clear they intend to scale down their government’s current operation, known as Mare Nostrum, as the EU introduces a new operation known as Triton. Triton will focus more on border control – tasks such as vetting asylum seekers once they are ashore, and coastal patrols – rather than search and rescue in international waters. Mr Brokenshire said that 28 EU member states had “unanimously agreed” to the new proposals, and criticised those attacking the policy for seeking to “politicise” the issue.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather was not impressed by the minister’s defence:

Sarah Teather (Brent Central) (LD): Claiming that rescuing people from drowning in the sea is somehow a pull factor for people who are fleeing war is an absurd and deeply unethical thing for the Government to do. Can the Government not see that more people are travelling because half of the middle east is burning? Has the Minister not seen the advice of his own Foreign Office? We cannot wash our hands of these people, Pontius Pilate-style. If we are to prevent people from boarding rickety boats and drowning at sea, we will have to work with our European colleagues and find safe routes of travel. Can the Minister not see that he has lost any sense of ethical reasoning here?

James Brokenshire: I entirely reject the analysis that my hon. Friend seeks to proffer in this regard. No one is turning a blind eye to humanitarian issues or needs. The purpose of the actions being taken is to put fewer lives at risk, and I am sorry that she is unable to accept the clear purpose of what we are undertaking. On the idea that boats in need of assistance would simply be ignored, I point her to the head of Frontex who said that if a boat in distress is spotted, rescue is the top priority. I am sure that that is precisely what will happen.

And neither was Paddy Ashdown, speaking in the House of Lords:

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon (LD): My Lords, it pains me to say to my noble friends that this is a discreditable policy, whatever words are used to describe it. We do not find it difficult to disagree with the European Union on all sorts of other matters, but do we have to lay our hand to a European policy whose central proposition is that the best way to discourage people from seeking a better life is to leave them to drown in the Mediterranean? This is inhuman, it is discreditable and it may well be contrary to our duties under international law to do everything we can to save those in peril on the sea.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord comes to this with huge experience and understanding. However, those obligations which are there under the laws of the sea, maritime law and humanitarian law will remain as obligations on any vessels that actually come across people who are making this journey. The question is how we tackle this increasing trend effectively. This is not for the UK alone; this view was pored over on the basis of evidence, intelligence and information which came to the Justice and Home Affairs Council. All 28 member states agreed—which, as my noble friend suggested, is a pretty rare achievement—that, regrettably, this was having a counterproductive effect.

Nick Clegg’s line on Call Clegg was different, arguing this was primarily a decision for the Italian government:

… let’s be really clear, this was a decision taken by the Italian Government, it wasn’t taken unilaterally by the Home Office, it was the Italian Government who are quite literally on the kind of front line, if you like, there. They are the Mediterranean State concerned, they are having to address this challenge of large numbers of people risking life and limb crossing the Mediterranean often in makeshift boats, to get to Italy. And they decided that they didn’t want to continue with the search and rescue missions that went out there, ’cause their judgement was that it wasn’t helping to address the problems. So I mean, I know the Government has come under some criticism for accepting that Italian decision, in a European Union wide decision. I think it would have been quite curious for us to say, well hang on a minute, Italy, you can’t take that decision, and we’re somehow gonna kind of undercut you on that.

As for longer term solutions, Nick had this to say:

… we must play our part as a country to make sure that people want to stay put in their home country, and not illegally and very dangerously, try and move great distances to other countries. And that’s why, I know it’s controversial, but I think it is right for us as a country, to take an international lead and say, we are devoting 0.7 per cent of our national wealth to help countries develop their own economies, so that people have got a sense of optimism and hope in their own countries, and they don’t seek to flee elsewhere. The other thing we need to do, is we do need to work across the European Union, which is by the way, the context in which this decision was taken, to make sure that we know how to deal with people who seek asylum. We are, of course, not a Mediterranean country, and when people, individuals, see asylum, they do so, they lodge that appeal in the first country they arrive in. But I think there’s no, in the long run, there’s no surrogate, but to make sure there are the conditions in North Africa and elsewhere, which encourage people to stay put. But on this individual decision about search and rescue parties, I think it’s not for us to second guess the Italian government’s stance on that.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

My must-reads this week October 31, 2014

by Stephen Tall on October 31, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention this week…

Half of current Green supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010

by Stephen Tall on October 29, 2014

“As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.” That’s a sentence I wrote 7 years ago, November 2007. So I was interested to see this post by YouGov’s Peter Kellner – ‘Ukip, the Greens and the new politics of protest’ – which looks at his firm’s polling data to find out more about the current spike in support for the Greens.

In it, he aggregates three weeks’ polling data to create a sample size large enough to find out who these new Green voters are. One finding probably won’t surprise many of us: half current Green supporters voted Lib Dem in May 2010:

yougov - green vote

Here’s how Peter Kellner analyses it:

In many ways the Greens and Ukip are mirror images of each other. Half of Ukip’s supporters are ex-Tory voters, while the Greens attracted half of their vote from the Lib Dems. Green voters are younger, more female, better-educated and more middle-class than the average – whereas Ukip voters are older, more male, more working class and far less likely to have a university degree. Ukip voters veer to the Right in ideology and choice of newspaper, while Greens veer to Left. (In fact, the Greens are more ideological: 60% of them say they a left-of-centre, while just 40% of Ukip voters place themselves on the Right.) On religion – and make of this what you will: their different age profile explains only part of the difference – Ukip voters roughly match Britain as a whole in dividing evenly on whether or not they are religious, whereas Green voters are significantly more likely to be atheists.

Taken together, what seems to be emerging is a two-headed protest vote. In the past, the Lib Dems largely monopolised the anti-big-battalion vote in by-elections – winning middle-class support to beat the Tories in the shires and suburbs, and working-class votes to challenge Labour in inner-city seats.

Those days are long past. British politics has fractured in two ways. The most obvious is that the Lib Dems are no longer an insurgent party, able to attract support when one or both of the two big parties stumble. Moreover, there has also been a long-term decline in some of the forces that used to give British politics its shape and stability. Social class and political ideology matter far less than they used to. Our political loyalties and attitudes are more varied, and so are the sources and expression of protest. Ukip and the Greens are both beneficiaries of this new political reality – as, arguably, is the SNP as it gears up to invade Labour’s heartland in Scotland next May. They all draw on different versions of our current discontents and all offer different remedies.

Can Lib Dems win back these Green voters? Some, I’m sure. Perhaps those who want to register their support for the Greens in polls but will choose to vote Lib Dem when it comes to the crunch. And/or perhaps those who realise where they live the Lib Dems have a much better chance of winning.

However, I doubt we can win them all back. The party’s environmental policies are, in my view, correctly pragmatic, rooted in science. We are now pro-nuclear as the least worst way to de-carbonise and combat climate change. We are cautious of fracking, but not opposed in principle. We have never been vitriolically opposed to GM foods. In rejecting expansion of airports, the party has maintained a ‘purist’ line, but it is one of the few issues where that’s the case.

I think that’s the right approach, but it is clearly a less rigid approach than the Greens’. Just as the Tories’ Eurosceptic approach is not enough for the absolutists who want the UK our of the European Union.

But that doesn’t alter the immediate threat to the Lib Dems – as Kellner notes: “Ukip depriving the Tories of votes in Conservative-Labour marginals, and the Greens making it even harder for Lib Dem MPs to hold their seats against Labour or Conservative challengers”.

Nor does it alter the medium-term threat either: “if Ukip establishes itself next year as the clear second-place challenger to Labour in much of the North, as well as to the Tories along England’s east and south coasts, while the Greens build up support in university seats where they have started to put down roots [then,] in 2020, there could be dozens of seats in which the ‘wasted vote’ argument for sticking to the two big parties won’t apply, and tactical voting could help Ukip and the Greens.”

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Half of current Green supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010

by Stephen Tall on October 29, 2014

“As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.” That’s a sentence I wrote 7 years ago, November 2007. So I was interested to see this post by YouGov’s Peter Kellner – ‘Ukip, the Greens and the new politics of protest’ – which looks at his firm’s polling data to find out more about the current spike in support for the Greens.

In it, he aggregates three weeks’ polling data to create a sample size large enough to find out who these new Green voters are. One finding probably won’t surprise many of us: half current Green supporters voted Lib Dem in May 2010:

yougov - green vote

Here’s how Peter Kellner analyses it:

In many ways the Greens and Ukip are mirror images of each other. Half of Ukip’s supporters are ex-Tory voters, while the Greens attracted half of their vote from the Lib Dems. Green voters are younger, more female, better-educated and more middle-class than the average – whereas Ukip voters are older, more male, more working class and far less likely to have a university degree. Ukip voters veer to the Right in ideology and choice of newspaper, while Greens veer to Left. (In fact, the Greens are more ideological: 60% of them say they a left-of-centre, while just 40% of Ukip voters place themselves on the Right.) On religion – and make of this what you will: their different age profile explains only part of the difference – Ukip voters roughly match Britain as a whole in dividing evenly on whether or not they are religious, whereas Green voters are significantly more likely to be atheists.

Taken together, what seems to be emerging is a two-headed protest vote. In the past, the Lib Dems largely monopolised the anti-big-battalion vote in by-elections – winning middle-class support to beat the Tories in the shires and suburbs, and working-class votes to challenge Labour in inner-city seats.

Those days are long past. British politics has fractured in two ways. The most obvious is that the Lib Dems are no longer an insurgent party, able to attract support when one or both of the two big parties stumble. Moreover, there has also been a long-term decline in some of the forces that used to give British politics its shape and stability. Social class and political ideology matter far less than they used to. Our political loyalties and attitudes are more varied, and so are the sources and expression of protest. Ukip and the Greens are both beneficiaries of this new political reality – as, arguably, is the SNP as it gears up to invade Labour’s heartland in Scotland next May. They all draw on different versions of our current discontents and all offer different remedies.

Can Lib Dems win back these Green voters? Some, I’m sure. Perhaps those who want to register their support for the Greens in polls but will choose to vote Lib Dem when it comes to the crunch. And/or perhaps those who realise where they live the Lib Dems have a much better chance of winning.

However, I doubt we can win them all back. The party’s environmental policies are, in my view, correctly pragmatic, rooted in science. We are now pro-nuclear as the least worst way to de-carbonise and combat climate change. We are cautious of fracking, but not opposed in principle. We have never been vitriolically opposed to GM foods. In rejecting expansion of airports, the party has maintained a ‘purist’ line, but it is one of the few issues where that’s the case.

I think that’s the right approach, but it is clearly a less rigid approach than the Greens’. Just as the Tories’ Eurosceptic approach is not enough for the absolutists who want the UK our of the European Union.

But that doesn’t alter the immediate threat to the Lib Dems – as Kellner notes: “Ukip depriving the Tories of votes in Conservative-Labour marginals, and the Greens making it even harder for Lib Dem MPs to hold their seats against Labour or Conservative challengers”.

Nor does it alter the medium-term threat either: “if Ukip establishes itself next year as the clear second-place challenger to Labour in much of the North, as well as to the Tories along England’s east and south coasts, while the Greens build up support in university seats where they have started to put down roots [then,] in 2020, there could be dozens of seats in which the ‘wasted vote’ argument for sticking to the two big parties won’t apply, and tactical voting could help Ukip and the Greens.”

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Nick Clegg: I’m not voting in this Thursday’s PCC by-election

by Stephen Tall on October 28, 2014

Police helmetThere’s a by-election taking place this Thursday. The good news is the Lib Dems won’t lose our deposit.

The reason is the party’s not standing a candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner by-election triggered by the resignation of former PCC Shaun Wright over the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal.

Here’s how Nick Clegg explained the decision to the BBC earlier this month:

“Having looked at the experiment of police and crime commissioners, I’ve come to the conclusion it just doesn’t work. Look what happened in South Yorkshire and across the whole of the north of England; it’s all re-hashed, re-tread Labour politicians and, guess what, the public don’t like it and they don’t bother to vote for it at all.”

Asked why the Liberal Democrats had chosen not to put forward a candidate in the PCC election, despite fielding one in 2012, he said he did no want to “prop it up”. He said: “It would be slightly odd for me to say on the one hand this experiment in police and crime commissioner has failed and on the other hand we’re going to compete in an experiment we think has failed.”

I don’t get that argument, I’m afraid. After all, Lib Dems contest first-past-the-post elections though we think it’s a failed system. And we appoint peers to the House of Lords though we think it’s a failed system.

Oh, and we also contested the West Midlands PCC by-election held three months’ ago.

It may well be the South Yorkshire regional Lib Dems have taken a look at their finances and decided there’s better ways to spend money than on trying to save a £5,000 deposit in a PCC by-election. If so, that’s a rational reason I can understand.

However, it does mean no-one eligible to vote in South Yorkshire has the chance of casting their vote for the Lib Dems this Thursday. That happens to include the leader of the Lib Dems, as Michael Crick noted this evening:

Nick Clegg thereby becomes, I believe, the first party leader since Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 not to vote at a public election (hat-tip: Alan Holloway).

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

What Lib Dem members think about devolution – and what their local priorities would be

by Stephen Tall on October 25, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Almost 600 party members responded to this set of questions – thank you – in a supplementary poll ran just before the party conference.

Majorities say Education and NHS should be governed at local/regional level

Which of the following should be decided mainly at a local/regional level? (Please tick all that apply)

    Education – 70%
    NHS – 57%
    Welfare – 42%
    Environment – 41%
    Business and trade policy – 31%
    Income tax rates – 29%
    Criminal justice – 14%
    Defence – 1%
    Foreign policy – 0%
    None of these, all should be mainly UK-level – 17%
    Other – 7%
    Don’t know – 1%

Clear majorities of Lib Dem members like the idea of decisions to do with both education (70%) and health (57%) being decided at a local/regional level. Significant minorities support policies on welfare (42%) and the environment (41%) being decided there, too. There is less support for economic matters (business and trade, income tax) being devolved, nor for matters of criminal justice. Hardly any Lib Dems like the idea of defence or foreign policy being decided at local level. Of the 7% who selected ‘Other’, transport and housing/planning were the issues most frequently mentioned.

90% want cities to have greater powers

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?

I would support greater power for local government to affect change in UK cities:

    Strongly Agree – 55%
    Agree – 35%
    Total agree = 90%
    Disagree – 5%
    Strongly Disagree – 2%
    Total disagree = 7%
    Don’t know – 4%

I am confident that the interests of UK cities are well represented at the national level

    Strongly Agree – 2%
    Agree – 11%
    Total agree = 13%
    Disagree – 59%
    Strongly Disagree – 17%
    Total disagree = 76%
    Don’t know – 12%

I am confident that local politicians have the powers they need to boost my local economy

    Strongly Agree – 1%
    Agree – 7%
    Total agree = 8%
    Disagree – 51%
    Strongly Disagree – 31%
    Total disagree = 82%
    Don’t know – 10%

I do not believe politicians at national level understand what UK cities need to prosper

    Strongly Agree – 21%
    Agree – 43%
    Total agree = 64%
    Disagree – 17%
    Strongly Disagree – 3%
    Total disagree = 20%
    Don’t know – 15%

I believe that local government needs greater power to meet the needs of UK cities

    Strongly Agree – 45%
    Agree – 41%
    Total agree = 86%
    Disagree – 5%
    Strongly Disagree – 3%
    Total disagree = 8%
    Don’t know – 6%

Lib Dem members’ top priority for their local area: “Delivering more affordable housing”

Following the General Election in May 2015, which of the following would you like the next Government to prioritise in your local area?

We asked those we survey to rank the following five policies in their order of priority. These are the results when ranked in order using an STV election, re-run each time for the additional number of required “seats”:

    1. Delivering more affordable housing (245 first preferences)
    2. Creating more and better jobs (105)
    3. Improving education and training (78)
    4. Improving public transport (81)
    5. Supporting local businesses to grow and prosper (77)

“Delivering more affordable housing” polls well ahead of the other four priorities for Lib Dem members — more than twice as many opted for it over “Creating more and better jobs”. As Mark Pack has repeatedly pointed out, though, this is at odds with the priorities of the voting public.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 586 completed the latest survey, which was conducted on 2nd and 3rd October.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 8

    by Stephen Tall on October 25, 2014

    Congratulations to Jon Featonby, who leads the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 8, with a whopping 484 points. However, not far behind are George Murray (472) and 2013 Liberal Voice of the Year, Sam Bowman (470). However, as just 39 points separate the top 10, it’s fair to say it’s still very much anyone’s season.

    For the record, I’m only 82 points off the lead, biding my time, ready for my Premiership-winning push. Like Arsenal. And I suspect I have about as much chance of winning as the Gunners do.

    And not that it matters in the least, but the bottom-placed team, Ceredigion Premier, is on 142 points. Which is fine – we Lib Dems don’t after all believe football is all about the winning

    LDV FANTASY FOOTBALL_8

    There are 150 players in total and you can still join the league by clicking here.

    * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

    Liberal Hero of the Week #78: Laura Sandys

    by Stephen Tall on October 24, 2014

    Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

    cf hero laura sandys

    Laura Sandys

    Conservative MP for South Thanet
    Reason: for being “a proud extreme moderate”

    Let me be clear in my nomination. Saying you’re a moderate, a centrist, is not the same as being a liberal.

    But it’s a start.

    Why do I say that? Let me pray in aid a quote from Edmund Fawcett’s brilliant new book, Liberalism: The Life of an Idea:

    ‘Liberal politics aspires to openness and toleration, to settling matters by argument and compromise, to building coalitions rather than creating sects, and to recognizing the inevitable existence of factions and interests without turning them into irreconcilable foes.’

    Compare that aspiration with Laura Sandys’ words in The Independent:

    Being a moderate is not a value-free zone; neither does it mean that I lack commitment, or ambition for radical change. I am passionate about placing tolerance, even-handedness, evidence-based policy at the centre of my politics, with beliefs that are committed to a One Nation vision. We moderates have one very important task. What was the settled political contract in Britain, balancing liberal capitalism on one hand and social democracy on the other, is failing. We need to renew these values through root and branch reform. As it stands, liberal capitalism had been replaced by crony capitalism, with corporations protecting their own rather than innovating. … Being a passionate moderate with a commitment to bringing people together, rather than gaining from division, takes a lot more guts than always playing the easy polemic political card.

    At one time, such a statement might have seemed too obvious to merit further comment; indeed, her article probably wouldn’t have been commissioned or published. But our politics now is more fissiparous. That offers an opportunity to parties which once were on the fringes.

    And those who successfully exploit the opportunity, such as Ukip’s Nigel Farage, do so by dividing rather than uniting: immigrants, Europe, other politicians — these others, they are all villains. That allows the party to recruit a small-ish core of resentful voters as passionate zealots. It fails utterly though in “bringing people together”, in “building coalitions”. Unsurprisingly, a YouGov poll for the Economist this week showed a majority of the British public views Ukip as “full of oddballs and extremists”.

    Yet the temptation for politicians is to prefer the easy, short-termism of pointing the finger of blame at others to the harder, longer-term solutions that come from openness and toleration, argument and compromise.

    For sticking up, passionately, for moderation, Laura Sandys deserves our thanks. Especially as she’s standing down from Parliament in six months’ time — to be replaced by Nigel Farage if the people of South Thanet will it.

    * The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.



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