Why 40% is the magic number in the Scottish referendum

by Stephen Tall on July 6, 2014

Brazil v Scotland 22For some reason, 40% is a figure which has long exerted political significance.

That devolution for Scotland wasn’t introduced in 1979 wasn’t because a majority of those who voted didn’t want it: by 52% to 48% the Scottish voted in favour of establishing a Scottish parliament. However, a Labour MP, George Cunningham, introduced an amendment to the Scotland Act (1978) specifying a minimum turnout threshold of 40% of the electorate. The actual turnout of 33% meant Scottish devolution had to wait a further two decades.

I was reminded of this when talking recently to a Lib Dem who was heavily involved in the Alternative Vote referendum campaign. “Did you ever think it was winnable?” I asked. “Not by about January,” he admitted. “But I did hope we could get at least 40% voting for it – that would have kept electoral reform on the table.” The actual result, a heavy defeat of AV by 68% to 32% on a 42% turnout, meant that chance was lost.

I’d suggest there’s something similarly important about the end-result in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. The polls are consistently clear that the Scots will not vote for separation from the rest of the UK. However, they disagree about the likely margin – an odd phenomenon YouGov’s Peter Kellner wrote about this week. My rule-of-thumb is that a Yes vote above 40% and the question of independence remains alive; below 40% and it is settled for a generation (though like the UK’s membership of the European Union it may never be truly resolved).

However, the idea that defeat for independence will mean the SNP shrinks away, tail between its legs, is wide of the mark. At least one senior Labour figure, a former cabinet minister, has privately highlighted the danger to his party of a No vote at the May 2015 general election. His reason? Having rejected independence, the Scottish voters will want an insurance policy their wishes won’t be ignored by Westminster. A large SNP representation there would be the best way to ensure that. He predicts up to 30 Scottish nationalist MPs will be returned.

I don’t know Scottish politics well enough to know how plausible such a scenario is. But, if he’s right, Alex Salmond poses much more of a danger to Labour’s election hopes than Nigel Farage.

* 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.

5 things Nick Clegg could do next

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

Nick Clegg Q&A 8My last piece of advice to Nick Clegg was to stand down as Lib Dem leader. He didn’t, and it’s pretty clear now that Nick will lead us into the next general election.

Two problems remain, though, and we need to find ways of addressing them. First, morale in the party has dipped since the May elections. Secondly, support for the party has also dipped in the polls. Yes, Lib Dem MPs benefit from the incumbency effect but that only stretches so far – we also need to start winning the air war, or at the very least avoid being ignored. As it stands, what Nick says just isn’t getting a listening. However unfair, it’s a reality we need to deal with.

Here are five suggestions from me for ways in which Nick Clegg could help restore party morale and maybe get himself a hearing from the media and public…

1. Announce Vince Cable will be the party’s shadow chancellor at the next election.

I’m told it’s a done deal that Danny Alexander will get the nod. That would be a mistake. We need a shadow chancellor with clout, utterly secure on the economics, savvy about the politics. As I pointed out a couple of months ago, Vince has done a masterful job of walking “the tightrope of respecting collective cabinet responsibility while signalling quite clearly when and why he disagrees with the Conservatives, most notably on immigration”. Party members also favour – by 63% to 28% – having Vince represent the Lib Dems in the ‘Ask the Chancellor’ debates.

2. Keep the party’s options open in the event of a ‘hung parliament’

Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015 (ie, the party won’t join a formal coalition but wouldn’t bring down a minority government either). I can understand why he’s sceptical of such an arrangement – as I’ve argued before, “It seems to me a way of getting all the pain of coalition with little of the gain of being in government.” But we need to keep all options available to maintain maximum negotiating leverage. What matters most is how we can deliver liberal policies in the next parliament. That’s most likely to happen in a full coalition, but not at any price. Tim Farron was spot-on to argue, “When you go into negotiations with another party you have to believe, and let the other party believe, that there is a point at which you would walk away, and when the outcome could be something less than a coalition, a minority administration of some kind, that is something we all have to consider.”

3. Appoint Jo Swinson to the cabinet in the autumn

As I wrote in Total Politics after last year’s reshuffle, “It’s shaming that a party which proudly proclaims its belief in equality has never yet appointed a female cabinet minister.” Jo Swinson might have been promoted then, but her maternity leave was just about to begin. Now returned to work as an accomplished Business Minister, she is the obvious candidate for elevation (though she herself may prefer to devote the time to her marginal constituency where she has a tough fight on her hands). It’s of course true that a reshuffle just a few months before an election – when ministers have little scope to initiate change – might be seen as little more than window dressing. But it would at least signal some intent to address the Lib Dems’ “male, pale and stale” problem at the top of our party.

4. Stop going to PMQs, start touring the country

Focus groups, I’m told, show the public is baffled why Nick Clegg simply sits next to David Cameron without ever speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions. To them, he appears mute, powerless, sidelined. Nick himself is scathing of this weekly parliamentary pantomime: “It is just so stuck in the nineteenth century and it is so stuck in this adversarial, yah-boo culture. It is going to have to change at some point.” He can’t change it now, but what he can do is steer clear of it. The time spent attending PMQs could be much better used. Nick’s aides are, according to the Daily Mail, advising him to ditch his Spanish family holiday volunteer “for a ‘summer of pain’ doing ordinary jobs outside Westminster”, modelled on Paddy Ashdown’s 1993 ‘Beyond Westminster’ tour of Britain. Ignore half that, Nick: you and your family need your holiday. But getting out of Westminster every Wednesday at 12 noon seems like a sound idea.

5. “Let Clegg Be Clegg”

In the first ‘Nick v Nigel’ debate, Nick was himself: Mr Reasonable: moderate, persuasive, reforming. Then his aides got spooked by the polls showing Farage won the post-debate polls. Nick was schooled to exhibit ersatz passion and crack creaky one-liners. It didn’t come naturally. The result? He lost the second debate by losing himself. Of course party leaders need staff and colleagues able to feed them good lines – but they have to be lines which can be spoken comfortably and sound authentic. The next time Nick is guaranteed a hearing from voters will be the first televised leaders’ debate (whenever that is, whatever its format). I want The Real Nick Clegg to stand up and stick up for what he believes in – in his own words.

* 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.

Liberals at War: A Warning from History for the Tories

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here on Tuesday. I looked at the lessons of history of the Liberal Party’s collapse a century ago for the Tories today. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

100 years ago, the Liberals were sitting pretty. The party had won three consecutive general elections: the landslide of 1906, followed by two much narrower victories in 1910, after which the Liberal Government’s anti-Tory majority was sustained thanks to the backing of Labour and Irish nationalists. By 1914, the party could look back with real satisfaction on its legislative achievements: pensions and unemployment insurance had been introduced, the supremacy of the elected Commons over the unelected Lords asserted.

And then, on 28th June, a Bosnian-Serb, Gavrilo Princip, fired a series of bullets from a pistol at the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian crown, and his Consort, Sophie. As that week’s edition of The Economist reported, ‘Two of them instantly took fatal effect; the Archduke was mortally wounded in the cheek, and the Archduchess, who had endeavoured to shield him, was shot in the body and sank unconscious in his arms. By the time the car reached the hospital both were dead.’ What it termed ‘this dastard act’ sparked an international diplomatic crisis that triggered the Great War.

It had far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for the Liberal Party, too. The war forced the Liberals in 1915 to invite not only the Conservatives to join a formal coalition, but also brought Labour into government for the first time. This exacerbated discontent in the ranks, as coalitions have a habit of doing. Backbench rebellions grew as conscription was introduced in 1916 for single men and in 1917 for married men. ‘With this wanton breach with historic Liberalism, that great movement practically comes to an end and a new alignment of parties must gradually take place,’ prophesied one leading Liberal journal.

Part of that new alignment emerged thanks to the schism between HH Asquith and David Lloyd George, with the latter replacing the former as Prime Minister in 1916. Imagine for a moment if Vince Cable had heeded the urgings of his close political friends and supplanted Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister in 2012, but that Clegg had held on as party leader. Then imagine that both Cable and Clegg continued to head different factions for the next 10 years. It was just such an implausible scenario that was acted out in front of the British electorate from 1916 to 1926, when Asquith finally gave way to Lloyd George. They made the Alliance’s ‘Two Davids’ looks like the model of united togetherness.

Labour gradually elbowed the Liberals out of contention. By 1924, just a decade after the Liberals had dominated the British political landscape, the party attracted less than 18 per cent of the mass franchise vote and had been reduced to 40 MPs. By the time the Asquith Liberals and the Lloyd George Liberals remembered that more united than divided them, the electorate had lost interest. The brief, flagging revival in 1929 under the ‘Welsh Wizard’ merely underlined how the party had been usurped from relevance: Labour was now the largest single party in the Commons, established as the anti-Tory opposition in a two-party electoral system, and the Liberal Party was to be little more than a political footnote for the next two generations.

Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I imagine ConservativeHome’s readers have much interest in my party’s Edwardian ‘strange death’. It’s because it’s all too easy to believe political parties are both permanent and unassailable. Yet the collapse of Liberalism 100 years ago shows that, given a particular combination of tricky circumstances, no party is guaranteed future success based on past performance.

I think the Conservatives will, most likely, win the popular vote in May 2015. It’s even possible, though less likely, that they will win an outright, if slender, majority. In either case, a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will follow within 18 months. (Let’s be clear, the Lib Dems will not stand in your way. If my party refuses to concede an in/out referendum this side of the general election it’s only because the leadership wants to retain it as a bargaining chip for any ‘hung parliament’ negotiations.)

And David Cameron has made very clear that he intends to negotiate a deal that will enable him to win a ‘Yes’ vote to keep the UK within the European Union. Let’s recall the Prime Minister’s words in his impressive January 2013 Bloomburg speech: “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it. Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won.”

His failure to thwart Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination as President of the European Commission does little to alter that simple fact. Those of our European partners who want the UK to remain within the EU will ensure Cameron does not go back home from his negotiations empty-handed. They will offer him just enough to allow him to declare victory; and that “mild and minor” package will be something that we Lib Dems can also happily live with. And the polls are clear that, if Cameron recommends a renegotiation deal, the public will back our continuing EU membership.

It’s this ‘what happens next?’ that intrigues me. Some Tory ultra-right-wingers will, if Cameron campaigns for a ‘Yes’ vote, immediately defect to Ukip. The question is: how many ultras are there? How many of the less ultra, Eurosceptic ‘Fresh Start’ group of Tory MPs can be persuaded to stay loyal? Would any of the current cabinet challenge Cameron’s leadership? Who, quite frankly, knows?

Cameron is doing his best to hold his party together, but his best may not suffice. The pragmatic, genteel Macmillanite Tory party that Cameron embodies long since ceded control to the ideological, radical Thatcherites: no compromise is their cry, yet that is all Cameron has the power to deliver. Maybe that will prove to be enough. Maybe the party that champions common sense will acquire some for itself. Maybe the Thatcherite ultras and the Cameroon pragmatists will realise parties do better when they stick together and put the voters ahead of their own squabbles. As Liberals can attest, it’s a long way back when you forget.

My recommended reading for today July 4, 2014

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention in the past couple of days…

How you can take part in LibDemVoice’s exclusive party member surveys

by Stephen Tall on July 1, 2014

libdemvoiceLibDemVoice’s surveys of party members signed-up to our discussion forum have been running for close to four years now. (I posted yesterday the final set of figures from our most recent poll.)

Our surveys are a way of testing members’ views on a variety of hot topics. And as they’ve been running throughout the first four years of the Coalition they’re also an interesting record of changing views on how the Coalition is regarded within the party.

If you would like to take part in the LibDemVoice surveys, there are simply two steps you need to follow:
1) Be a current Lib Dem member, and
2) Sign up to LibDemVoice’s members’ forum.
You will then be emailed a unique link to our next survey enabling you to offer your verdict on a range of current matters.

I have compiled a Google spreadsheet summarising the results from our Coalition tracker — together with the satisfaction ratings for Lib Dem ministers and other leading party figures — which you can view here.

The full archive of our members’ surveys as published on the site can be viewed here.

Both my former LDV Co-Editor Mark Pack (here) and polling expert Anthony Wells (here) have assessed the reliability and credibility of our LibDemVoice surveys — for those with doubts about them (or indeed those who think they’re 100% to be trusted always) they’re well worth reading.

We hope you find the surveys interesting — certainly political journalists are interested in what our members have to say! And, as ever, if you have ideas or suggestions for topics and/or questions you would like to see included please do get in touch: stephen@libdemvoice.org.

* 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.

How you can take part in LibDemVoice’s exclusive party member surveys

by Stephen Tall on July 1, 2014

libdemvoiceLibDemVoice’s surveys of party members signed-up to our discussion forum have been running for close to four years now. (I posted yesterday the final set of figures from our most recent poll.)

Our surveys are a way of testing members’ views on a variety of hot topics. And as they’ve been running throughout the first four years of the Coalition they’re also an interesting record of changing views on how the Coalition is regarded within the party.

If you would like to take part in the LibDemVoice surveys, there are simply two steps you need to follow:
1) Be a current Lib Dem member, and
2) Sign up to LibDemVoice’s members’ forum.
You will then be emailed a unique link to our next survey enabling you to offer your verdict on a range of current matters.

I have compiled a Google spreadsheet summarising the results from our Coalition tracker — together with the satisfaction ratings for Lib Dem ministers and other leading party figures — which you can view here.

The full archive of our members’ surveys as published on the site can be viewed here.

Both my former LDV Co-Editor Mark Pack (here) and polling expert Anthony Wells (here) have assessed the reliability and credibility of our LibDemVoice surveys — for those with doubts about them (or indeed those who think they’re 100% to be trusted always) they’re well worth reading.

We hope you find the surveys interesting — certainly political journalists are interested in what our members have to say! And, as ever, if you have ideas or suggestions for topics and/or questions you would like to see included please do get in touch: stephen@libdemvoice.org.

* 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.

Organ donation: 68% support opt-out system, 71% oppose payments to donors

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2014

lib dem conf votingLib 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. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

68% support opt-out system for organ donation

Currently England has an opt-in organ donation system, meaning that people’s organs can only be used for transplants after their death if the person has consented (which they do through the NHS organ donation register). Wales is switching to an opt-out system, meaning that everyone’s organs can be used for transplants after their death unless the person has indicated that they do NOT want to be a donor. Which system would you prefer to see?

    28% – An opt-in system (where people have to give consent to donate their organs after their death)

    68% – An opt-out system (where people have to indicate if they do NOT consent to donating their organs after their death)

    3% – Don’t know

Strong support among Lib Dem members for an opt-out organ donation system – more than two-thirds of you prefer it to the current opt-in system. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• If someone is going to be unreasonable enough to refuse consent, they should at least have to declare it.
• People’s organs should revert to the state upon death.
• Seems logical to me; potentially benefiting the majority while affording the minority the right not to participate if they choose – good Liberal principles!
• The state does not own our bodies!
• Slippery slope.
• An opt out is a must.
• Next of kin should have the right to veto, unless the deceased is an adult and has explicitly opted in, in which case no right to veto their wishes. Choice to donate should be legally binding, like a will.
• I also think that the wishes of the donor are paramount, not the wishes of the family, as there have been cases where the family of the deceased prevents donation, despite the deceased being a registered donor.
• People who opt out should go to the back of the queue if they ever need an organ
• We believe in re-cycling, don’t we?
• But the relatives should not have power to over-rule the consent
• An opt out system starts from the presumption the state owns our bodies. No!
• I have been on the donor register for many years and a member of my immediate family has benefitted from a heart transplant. However if we move to an opt out system I will immediately opt out. There is an important principle here which Liberals should be defending. I am absolutely opposed to an opt out system and the Welsh are wrong to impose it.
• People own their own bodies.
• Hands off my organs!
• Family should be consulted after death, with strong objections only being considered to override assumed opt-in
• I’ve been on it for many many years. To me its a complete nonsense for people’s bodies when they’re dead not to be used.
• There is a shortage of organs for transplant so an opt-out approach will save lives.
• I think the switch to ‘opt out’ would be a liberal nudge.
• Human beings harvested for organs routinely is not my idea of a free society. It all depends if people get the information to opt out and I would predict many forgetting. The state does not own my body.
• This would save lives whilst still allowing people to opt out for ethical or religeous reasons
• It’s my body, is a trite slogan, but it is. It is not for harvesting at the say so of the state, even if dead. The quicker we move over to engineered organs developed without the need for a dead donor of some kind the better. And the more likely to happen sooner if minds are concentrated by not being able to take whatever a medic wants. No problem with Next of Kins giving permission even without an opt-in though.
• My mother was a kidney transplant patient. Once she received her new organ, her quality of life improved several thousand percent. But she had to wait for a long time for it, and that was very difficult. Good organs are being cremated and buried every day. It is an appalling waste. If someone has a genuine objection, then they can opt out.
• The Welsh do not have the way forward on this policy – leave it alone.
- providing that a bereaved family would not be pressured to withdraw their refusal to allow transplants.
• It should also be very very clear that relatives should NOT have the right of veto. If someone has opted in (or preferably not opted out) then that decision should be binding.
• My body is my own, and it is not for government to presume, to the disadvantage of the many who for one reason or another, including sloth, inefficiency, superstition or incapacity have not given consent. Failure to sign up might consign you to the bottom of the queue if you need one yourself, though.
• LONG OVERDUE – and why didn’t we have an opt-out system of organ donation rather than that disingenuous opt-out of our (saleable) health records?
• The feelings of relatives would need to be respected
• I cannot see an opt-out system ever working, do we really expect anyone to cart off a body in the face of grieving family members asking, begging, them not to?
• However, I do not see why adults who don’t have a donor card should expect to receive a donated organ. That change could focus minds and expand the register.

71% opposed to allowing payments to organ donors

Would you support or oppose allowing payments to people who donate organs for transplant?

    16% – Support

    71% – Oppose

    13% – Don’t know

There is overwhelming opposition to the idea of allowing payments to people who donate organs for transplant – 7-in-10 oppose it, while less than 1-in-6 support it. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• I would despair of a society where people sold away their health
• I believe Iran is the only country that does this, and is also the only country where the need for kidney transplants is met.
• Enough stories from the USA etc of alcoholics selling a kidney etc to gain income!
• Definition of slippery slope
• Just make donation compulsory.
• Presumably this means live donors? Payments would generate wrong decisions with ongoing problems. If Donor deceased, see no reason why heirs should benefit.
• I would hate to see sink estates becoming organ farms for the rich.
• Much as I support organ donation, I would not want to see poor people donating under pressure to make money.
• This happens in America where the quality of ‘donated’ organs is low
• Part of me thinks whatever increases the supply of organs, where there is consent, is a good thing. But I’m a bit squeamish about where this could lead.
• Poor people might resort to selling organs
• There would be too much temptation for those in financial trouble to risk compromising their own health.
• Allowing this could open those who are in financial hardship to the possibility of selling their organs for cash – which would not be to their benefit.
• We simply cannot have people donating kidneys for payment, because they believe that it would be sufficient to retain a single kidney. If someone wishes to donate a kidney for no payment, that would be fine as far as I am concerned.
• People would be queing up to donate organs after a good press story, and regret what they had done later. Payment would also make the poor very vulnerable.
• They must be free from any persuasion in making a decision to `Save Life’ via organ donation.
• trial it
• Would have to think more carefully about this
• but the whole system needs to be sorted out and in particular we need to end the nonsense where the wishes of an individual are overruled by a relative.
• only really applies to kidneys and lobes of liver. Not risk free, donor insurance should be offered for 10 year period
• Payments for organs from those who are still alive would be exploitative of the poor, and payments could provide perverse incentives.
• This would risk serious abuse.
• I would support recompense of costs; medical bills, childcare etc but not straightforward payment
• I can’t see why organ donation should be different from giving blood although doubtless this present filthy government would like to commercialise that.
• Just no. For goodness sake.
• What’s the problem

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • 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.

    Liberal Hero of the Week #71: The Financial Times

    by Stephen Tall on June 30, 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 ft

    Financial Times

    Pink ‘un read by the people who own the country
    Reason: For urging government adopt a more thoughtful approach to outsourcing.

    Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
    (Jim Hacker, Yes Prime Minister)

    One of the Thatcher / Major / Blair / Coalition governments’ great mistakes has been to assume that competition is the same as what the private sector does. Under the Conservatives nationalised monopolies were converted into private monopolies. Under Labour, and now the Coalition, outsourcing public services has become a way of life.

    There are, of course, times when this makes sense. The Coalition’s privatisation of the Royal Mail and its sell-off of parts of the student loan book are two cases in point, controversial though both are in some quarters. But it isn’t always the case that ‘public = bad, private = good’, as this week’s Financial Times shrewdly pointed out:

    The government must control its temptation to outsource on all fronts. The rush to outsource the probation service is a case in point.

    In those areas where outsourcing is appropriate, government needs to be much smarter about monitoring and challenging poor performance. The growth of outsourcing has outstripped the capability of the civil service to keep providers on their toes. The government should equip officials with the skills commensurate to negotiate on equal terms with large providers and to hold them to account throughout the lifetime of the contracts. Elaborate monitoring systems dreamt up by consultants must be simplified.

    Finally, trust needs to be restored to the entire outsourcing project. It must be shown as more than a ruse to push down wages and cut costs. Quality should be the clear aim – which will sometimes mean big is not best. Trust also requires more transparency, especially about performance against targets. Government needs to show there is sufficient competition during the tendering process and an ability to manage a change in provider, should the company be found to fall consistently short. Outsourcing has an important role to play, if implemented properly. A more thoughtful approach is needed.

    The three conditions are simple enough (if complex to implement): 1) Competition during tendering, 2) Transparency and accountability of performance expectations, and 3) An available contract exit route. If all three conditions can be met, then outsourcing can and should be considered. If they can’t then approach with caution.

    I believe in competition as a great driver-upper of standards. But we cannot simply assume competition and improved delivery will automatically result from awarding a public service contract to the private sector. Hopefully the people who do run the country will listen to the paper read by the people who own the country.

    * 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.

    Term-time holidays and smoking in cars – what Lib Dem members think should be allowed

    by Stephen Tall on June 29, 2014

    lib dem conf votingLib 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. Over 830 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

    48% say schools should not allow parents to take their children out of school during term time

    Do you think schools should or should not allow parents to take their children out of school during term time for the purpose of taking family holidays?

      44% – Should allow parents to take children on holiday during term time

      48% – Should not allow parents to take children on holiday during term time

      8% – Don’t know

    A close result, but, by a slim margin, a plurality of Lib Dem members in our survey believe schools should not allow parents to take their children out of school during term time for the purpose of taking family holidays. Here’s a sample of your comments…

    • Limited to a week, with permission from the school if the child hasn’t had too many unauthorised absences.
    • Parents know what’s best for their kids. Holidays often more educational than school, but should be monitored on a case by case basis.
    • We have gone from being too lax to being far too strict.
    • It should be allowed sometimes – education is more than just what’s learnt in the classrooms. Holidays are often a chance for cultural exchanges and are not always affordable in the school holidays.
    • Definitely NOT. If parents cannot see the point of children being in school, then one wonders why they have even bothered to have children in the first place!
    • But the fleecing of parents by inflated holiday prices during school holidays should be outlawed.
    • with headteacher’s agreement
    • Not fair on familys who cannot afford fancy holidays
    • It depends on family circumstances, the school year in question etc.
    • A limit of 2 weeks per year
    • but only under certain circumstances
    • its an economic thing… should not be more than a week. not every parent has the ability to coordinate their holidays (or afford to pay the premiums for peak periods) to suit when it suits the schools.
    • I think the decision should be down to teachers and schools. One size does not fit all.
    • Parents, children and teachers should not be allowed to holiday in term time. However, staggered holidays should be considered.
    • The holiday companies, flight and hotel companies need to be tackled on extortionate prices rather than taking kids out of school.
    • A few days’ holiday during term time does no harm. The current ban forces parents to pay inflated prices for holidays.
    • All absence causes harm to their progress, going away on a holiday is not an essential.
    • Reducing class sizes would be the single best thing to do for our education system, plus free school meals for all state primary schools.
    • the balance of family time together cf loss of learning time is delicate….but I come out on the side of the family.
    • It is important for Children to learn to travel. There should be a small allowance.
    • Feel very strongly about this. Taking away the right of parents to take children out for 10 days was a “Stalinist” move in my view. The law should be restored to what it used to be.
    • It’s a fallacy concocted by teachers that children’s education suffers if they have a week or two extra holiday.
    • BUT, for not more than 2 weeks and not in an exam year or close to an exam.
    • Damages education. need to reduce term time prices for holidays.
    • Strict limits on duration. Child and parent responsible for catching up with class work.
    • Holidays are too expensive , families have a right to choose when to take their children on holiday saying they cannot is a nanny state
    • In general I oppose term time holidays, but I think there will always be extenuating circumstances where, for example parents are unable to get holiday time together. One particular route might be for parents to seek approval from the school’s governing body.
    • For a strictly enforced 2 weeks in any year and no more.
    • This is not ideal but holiday companies put prices through the roof during school breaks.
    • Within reason and not every year. Why not?

    61% support ban on people smoking in cars when there are children present

    Do you support or oppose a ban on people smoking in cars when there are children in the car?

      61% – Support

      31% – Oppose

      8% – Don’t know

    A more clear-cut result here – by a 2:1 majority Lib Dem members in our survey support the ban on people smoking in cars when there are children present. Here’s a sample of your comments…

    • Smoking is stupid anyway – smoking in the vicinity of children in a closed environment is wilful neglect of said children
    • Oppose smoking but not keen on the steps needed to police it
    • I believe people should only be able to smoke with other consenting adults, preferably in places designated for them.
    • I do not approve of banning anything. It is a pompous and officious process. People who do such a thing as smoking in private confined spaces with children or those who has respiratory problems should be prosecuted by the police if and when harm is caused.
    • Not enforceable
    • This is impossible to enforce. Using mobiles cannot be enforced at that is more dangerous
    • It’s an appalling thing to smoke in a car with kids in it, but we should steer clear of intervening too much in personal lives
    • Obviously not good to smoke around children, ask the police how they feel about upholding this law, how practical is it?
    • This is unworkable and unenforceable, it’s a waste of legislative time and paper.
    • This is an essential child protection measure.
    • I am a smoker but hopefully a responsible one
    • I am a lifelong non-smoker – but this would be completely unenforceable, not to mention an unwarranted expense and disastrous foir police pr.
    • But how are cars different from homes? Children spend much more time in homes.
    • There should also be a ban on smoking in a private dwelling where children are present; it is abusive because the child has no choice but to breathe in the adult’s smoke.
    • It distracts drivers and so should be banned completely – as should eating or drinking whilst driving.
    • I believe it is wrong to smoke with children present but we don’t need a law for everything that is wrong.
    • I am against all forms of over-regulation (big brother perception of government) and prefer the concept of education/information. This is a better, cheaper and more effective approach.
    • The inside of a car is private space. The dangers of smoking in an enclosed environment can be made clear. It would also probably be un enforceable.
    • I don’t like it, but I don’t approve of this step. This kind of change should be carried out via cultural change, not law.
    • I don’t think they should but I also am against unenforceable laws. This is in the same category as using a mobile.
    • Its an unenforceable nanny state law. I would be very supportive of the NHS running s strong campaign to dissuade parents from smoking in cars though.
    • Who wouldn’t? Enforcement may be difficult, but there will be convictions, and if these are suitably punished they will serve as a deterrent to others, thus protecting the kids.
    • Ludicrous and unenforceable nannying
    • I support an ban on smoking in cars even if there are no children on board
    • But then I would support a ban on people using their cars to transport themselves or their children when there are publiic transport alternatives!
    • As long as it doesn’t lead to a ban on smoking in cars full stop!
    • Unenforcable
    • Right but impossible to enforce -look at the so called ban on using a phone whilst driving
    • I see the logic but I’m not sure where it would stop. Would we start banning people from smoking in their own homes when Children are present. I’m not a smoker, or a parent
    • There is no justification for this that does not also justify the government going into people’s homes to stop smokers. If you’ve favour of that, that’s fine, but please have the honest to say so and to stop calling yourself ‘liberal’.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 745 responded in full – and a further 87 in part – to the latest survey, which was conducted between 16th and 22nd April.
  • 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.

    Ladbrokes: “Five seats the Lib Dems might GAIN in 2015?

    by Stephen Tall on June 29, 2014

    Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderYes, you read the headline right. Ladbrokes’ The Political Bookie blog this week featured five seats where, based on the betting, they reckon the Lib Dems might confound expectations…

    1. Montgomeryshire. Conservative majority 1,184
    “Some are expecting a turnaround with a new candidate.” Her name is Jane Dodds, selected a year ago.

    2. Watford. Conservative majority 1,425
    “In Lord Ashcroft’s constituency specific polling, they were just 5 points behind the Tories.” It is also the top Lib Dem target from the Tories not yet to have selected a candidate.

    3. Oxford West & Abingdon. Conservative majority 176
    “Another relatively surprising loss in 2010, this seat will certainly still be a target for the Lib Dems.” Layla Moran, selected 18 months ago, has a great team behind her, which has been producing some impressive local election results.

    4. Ashfield. Labour majority 192
    “It might seem extremely improbable that the Lib Dems could gain a Labour seat in the current circumstances but, if there is to be one, this could be it.” Jason Zadrozny will fight the seat again, having received a 17% swing in 2010.

    5. Maidstone & The Weald. Conservative majority 5,889
    “The least likely in our list, but Ladbrokes have seen money for the Lib Dems to oust sitting MP Helen Grant.” The only one of the five seats here not in the top 50 targets list we’ve been tracking, the Lib Dems – led by candidate Jasper Gerard – outscored the Tories by almost 10 per cent across the constituency in May’s election.

    Which seats do you reckon they’ve missed?

    * 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.



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