Liberal Hero of the Week #37: Ingrid Loyau-Kennett. Our Liberal Villains are John Reid & Alex Carlile
by Stephen Tall on May 24, 2013
Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. The 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 in some way they’re liable to be named Villains.
Lords (John) Reid and (Alex) Carlile
Former Labour home secretary, and former Lib Dem MP and independent reviewer of terrorism legislation
Reason: for wanting to sacrifice our liberties ‘for the greater good’
There’s a familiar pattern to a terrorist outrage. Immediately, there’s the shock at innocent life cruelly and calculatedly obliterated; followed by the grief on behalf of their family and friends, robbed of their fellowship. Then there are the sonorous statements from politicians, gravely intoning that we must remain steadfast, that the murderers will not win, that our lives must continue as normal; anything else would be to hand the terrorists their victory on a plate.
And then comes the next inevitability: politicians striking a pose as authoritarian strongmen by cravenly giving the jihadists the glory they seek. Two of the usual suspects this week displayed to the full their instinctive wish to do the terrorists’ job for them and concede defeat on our behalf: step forward Lords John Reid and Alex Carlile.
As the rest of the country watched in horror at the ritually savage attack so calmly executed in Woolwich this week, they ignored the Prime Minister’s sensible, sober words…
… one of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives, and that is what we shall all do.
… and instead took the opportunity to urge crackdowns, resurrecting the ghost of the Data Communications Bill (aka Snoopers’ Charter) which sought to keep tabs on private citizens emails and internet activity ‘for the greater good’.
Here’s Lord Carlile speaking on Wednesday’s BBC2 Newsnight: “we must ensure that the police and the security services have for the future the tools they need that will enable them to prevent this kind of attack taking place. I hope that this will give the government pause for thought about their abandonment, for example, of the communications data bill.” His co-conspirator Lord Reid cheerily asserted, “some of the measures the Government has refused to implement, like data communication, is absolutely essential for effective fighting of terrorism.”
You might ask where their evidence is that giving into the terrorists as they desire will make any of us safer. The issue has already been examined in detail by a parliamentary Joint Committee who pointed out how flawed the Snoopers’ Charter was, giving the state powers well in excess of those needed to prevent atrocities such as Woolwich. As Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert pointed out at the time:
While the Home Secretary claimed in the Sun that ‘Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated’, the truth is as that it could also be used for speeding offences, fly-tipping and things as vague as being in ‘the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom’. We are all suspects under this bill.
This week’s killing was a tragic, symbolic attack on our democracy — on the freedom of individuals to live our lives as we want within just laws. It’s precisely at times like these we need to stand confidently in defence of our liberal democracy, not fearfully give up our hard-won liberties as Lords Reid and Carlile want us to do.
Cub Scout leader from Helston, Cornwall
Reason: for composure in the face of terrorism
If Lords Reid and Carlile showed us how not to react to terrorist outrages, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett showed us how we should respond:
When the prime minister talked about Britain having a shared duty to confront extremism, the Cub Scout leader from Cornwall was the example he chose: “Told by the attacker he wanted to start a war in London, she replied, ‘you’re going to lose, it’s only you versus many’.”
With those few words, he said, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett had spoken “for us all”.
by Stephen Tall on May 21, 2013
Two new polls last night: the daily YouGov tracker and the first post-local elections poll from Survation. The spread is interesting:
Labour: 35% (Survation 39% (YouGov)
Conservatives: 24% (S), 31% (YG)
Lib Dems: 11% (S), 10% (YG)
Ukip: 22% (S), 14% (YG)
As Anthony Wells points out, Survation asks whether people will vote Ukip (most other firms just ask about the main three parties and ‘Others’) so usually gets the highest Ukip poll numbers. This latest survey is in line with the bounce other firms have shown and which the perceived winner of an election often records.
Unsurprisingly, it’s Survation’s poll which has attracted most interest because it shows a gap if just 2% between the Tories and Ukip. Cue cries of ‘Tory meltdown!, ‘Cameron in crisis!’ and every other journalistic cliche.
At the risk of precipitating on the parade of those who love nothing better than to indulge in over-excited hyper-speculation, can I make the following point. Or rather can I ask the following question: Does Nate Silver mean nothing to you? Did he write in vain?
One of the very simple — I mean it: really simple — points he made in the run-up to the last US presidential election was that national poll ratings are not the best way of judging who was most likely to emerge the winner. Throughout that election campaign journalists and commentators (who are paid to understand this stuff and enlighten the public) termed the contest a ‘dead-heat’ on the basis that national polls showed a consistent but narrow Obama lead that was within the margin of error. Yet Nate Silver’s analysis of individual state polls showed Obama with an unwaveringly firm hold on the US electoral college.
Nate’s confident prediction was acclaimed here in the UK. Yet the lessons for us here are now routinely ignored. Just as the US decides its President through an electoral college, we decide our government through electing constituency MPs. The only way to work out who’s actually most likely to form the next government is to undertake more regional polling and then to extrapolate from that the likely number of MPs for each party, while also weighting for other facts such as incumbency boosts (which disproportionately aid the Lib Dems and first-term MPs). But, as I wrote last November:
The blunt reality is that the news media craves excitement more than it hungers for truth. It is much cheaper and easier to commission a monthly survey and then inflate the results way beyond what the data should allow. We’ve all seen the kinds of headlines newspapers revel in — ‘Poll blow to Tories as support plunges 1%’, ‘Labour to win 100+ majority says latest exclusive poll’ — and yet journalists continue to write them even though they know deep down how flimsy the evidence is.
I’ve read lots of adulation of Nate Silver in the British media in the past 24 hours. I wonder if any of those journalists who’ve penned those articles have thought, even for a moment: I wish I had the confidence to write about polls with the same kind of rigour he does. I’m not holding my breath.
(I’m glad I didn’t hold my breath.)
The reality is that first-past-the-post entrenches the status quo. If the Survation poll were actually to be reflected at a general election, then Ukip would (at least according to Electoral Calculus’s predictor) gain one MP in return for their 22% of the vote. Shades of the Liberal/SDP Alliance in 1983. Labour would win a majority of 122. (And for those who half-wish for such an outcome to show up the bankruptcy of our electoral system, let’s remember: the same prophesies were made in the 1980s, and 30 years later we’re still nowhere nearer to winning that argument.)
The easiest thing to write about the next election is that “it’s completely unpredictable”. That’s only half-true, though. For sure, we don’t know if the Ukip-mania will last for another two years; and if it does quite how that will play out in relation to the Tory/Labour/Lib Dem votes. That is unpredictable. But we can be sure that Ukip won’t storm the House of Commons. The Ukip phenomenon is interesting in all sorts of ways. But as for the next House of Commons, Plaid Cymru is more significant than Ukip will be.
The Sun story about Chris Huhne that was a total invention (and which the other papers happily copied)
by Stephen Tall on May 19, 2013
Remember that front page Sun story from 13 March? On the off-chance Voice readers missed this exclusive, let’s refersh your memory of the splash:
Disgraced MP Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in Wandsworth jail yesterday — after a warder called him to breakfast by yelling “Order! Order!”
Only one small problem with the story: it was a complete fabrication.
The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade has the story:
According to the article, “the mocking warden” mimicked the commons speaker by saying: “The right honourable member for Wandsworth North — down to the office.”
It also said other prisoners laughed at Huhne, that they had bullied him and that he had been transferred to a wing for vulnerable prisoners.
But the story was just that – a story. When Huhne’s partner complained about the article to the Press Complaints Commission, the paper was unable to substantiate any of the claims.
The result? The PCC negotiated a resolution of the complaint, which involved The Sun removing the article from its website and publishing the following “correction”:
“In an article, ‘Order! Order! The Rt Hon Member for Wandsworth. Come to the office’ (13 March), we stated that a prison officer ridiculed Chris Huhne by calling him to breakfast on the Tannoy system.
We also reported claims by families of inmates that he had been moved to a wing for vulnerable prisoners after being bullied and badgered for money. We have been contacted by Mr Huhne and his partner Ms Carina Trimingham who say that he was not been moved or bullied and got on well with other prisoners. We are happy to set the record straight.”
In other words, the main page one page story breached the first, and arguably most important, clause of the editors’ code of practice, about accuracy.
Happy to set the record straight? You bet. Happy because the commission did not feel it necessary to censure the paper for publishing claims that it obviously could not prove.
Happy because it published the mealy-mouthed correction seven weeks later at the foot of page 2. Happy because it had got away with a flier. And it didn’t even have the grace to apologise.
Of course the too-good-to-be-true-(literally) story was picked up by the rest of the press. And not just by the tabloids.
Roy Greenslade’s own Guardian still has the story here (‘The disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in jail, when a prison officer called him to breakfast shouting “Order! Order!”, it was reported’), as do the Telegraph here (‘Disgraced former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne was ridiculed on his first day in jail when a warder called him to breakfast shouting “Order! Order!”, it was reported today’).
Only the Independent (of the non-paywalled quality press) appears to have updated its original story to reflect the facts rather than The Sun’s inventions.