Does everyone want to live in London?

by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2014

20141016_161511_resizedThat was my deliberately provocative question asked at The Guardian / British Academy round-table on immigration I took part in last week at Lib Dem conference – reported in the paper here under the headline ‘A numbers game that does not add up’.

One final – and telling – point came from Stephen Tall, co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

He asked all the members of the panel to consider whether they were indeed representative and whether they could actually understand the views of other people, from different backgrounds and parts of the country.

Tall said that there was always a danger at a “Guardian roundtable” at a Liberal Democrat conference, of the contributors all coming from the same viewpoint and not understanding the mentality of those who came from elsewhere.

“There is a tendency for us to assume that everyone would want to live in London and have a metropolitan lifestyle; I am not sure they do,” he said.

I am, of course, as pro-immigration as they come: not just the economic benefits, but also the principle of open borders. But I’m a minority (a not very visible one).

The more uncomfortable cultural question is one I’ve been thinking about more since moving house last year. I left very multi-ethnic East Oxford, where I’d lived (very happily) for a decade and re-located to the monocultural Horsham in West Sussex – and I love it there. Working in London as a commuter – leaving the house at 6.30am, returning at 7pm or later – I’m really enjoying the semi-rural tranquility. I get my dose of raucous urban life during the day: I’m more than happy to escape it at night and the weekends.

London is a powerhouse, an immense force for economic good, where children from low-income backgrounds are more likely to succeed than anywhere else in the country, where people of every different race and religion rub along together well, a cultural mecca. But I don’t want to live there, thanks. And I’m not alone.

None of which means I’ve changed my pro-immigration mind. But it suggests those of us who do believe in open borders need to do a bit more than simply point out the economic benefits of the UK being such an attractive migrant destination.

By the way, it’s well worth reading the contributions from the other participants at the table – including Vince Cable, Brian Paddick, Ros Lucas and Suzanne Fletcher – also available here.

How should we share the gain and the pain in the next Parliament?

by Stephen Tall on October 16, 2014

resolutionfoundationThat was the question the Resolution Foundation posed at a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting in Glasgow last week. Some of what follows was inspired by (ie, copied from) IFS Director Paul Johnson’s excellent LibDemVoice article, Balancing the books: some unpalatable choices, published last week. Some of it I’ve previously rehearsed in my ConservativeHome column, Make no mistake, these are deep and meaningful cuts – and there’s more to come. Anyway, here’s what I said…

“The gain and the pain.” I want to congratulate the Resolution Foundation on taking a glass half-full approach to the next five years. But I also want to challenge the premise of the question. Because – and I don’t want to be too depressing in what follows – I can see quite a lot of pain and I’m at a bit of a loss to see where the gain is likely to come from. Here’s why.

Five years ago, the deficit (that is, the amount the Government spends in a year minus the amount it raises) reached £157 billion as a result of the deepest recession in a century. The deficit’s currently hovering at around £100bn. The Office of Budget Responsibility reckons some £70 billion of that deficit is structural (rather than cyclical) which means £70 billion of tax increases or spending cuts over the course of the next Parliament are needed if the next Government is going to balance the books.

Now the Lib Dems are, I’m glad to say, doing the sensible thing. We’ve abandoned Plan A. Well, actually we abandoned it a couple of years ago when the economy spluttered to a halt. But now we’ve officially abandoned it. We’ve gone back to the future and reincarnated Gordon Brown’s golden rule – which means that under Lib Dem plans we’d eliminate the current structural deficit but give ourselves the freedom to borrow to invest. That gives us a lot more wiggle room than the Tories.

By the way, the Tories have also abandoned Plan A: they don’t now only want to eliminate the deficit, they also want to generate a surplus. They also want to cut everyone’s taxes and protect spending on the NHS. I want to live in this Tory world where simply saying something can make it so. The reality is that – as the IFS has stated – these Tory plans would mean spending on public services would by the end of the next Parliament be at its lowest level since World War 2 as a proportion of national income. Utterly, utterly fantastical – but that’s not to say the voters won’t like it. After years of grim austerity maybe enough people will be up for some make-believe.

But back to our Lib Dem wiggle room. It’s good we have it. It means less pain. But not no pain – there will still need to be cuts to public spending of around 2.4%. Doesn’t sound huge in the scheme of things compared to what’s come brefore, but don’t forget we’ve also got pay for our spending commitments too. Here’s a couple of questions then about the Lib Dem approach…

Tax-cuts: One way in which the pain has been alleviated over the past four years is the party’s flagship policy, now the Tories’ flagship policy, to raise the personal allowance. We’re committed to going further, raising it to £12.5k in line with the minimum wage. Part of me cheers: it’s an excellent aim. Part of me groans: around 70% of the benefit is felt by the better-off half of tax-payers, not the lowest-paid. Question: wouldn’t it be better first to raise the level at which workers start to pay national insurance contributions, currently just under £8k?

Young v Old – intergenerational justice: One group which has definitely gained over the last five years and will continue to gain are the retired. Spending on the state pension – as a result of the triple lock – will have increased by nearly 20% in real terms between 2010–11 and 2017–18. That’s even more expensive when you consider there will be two million more pensioners at the end of this decade than the start. The impact of the current cuts is to redistribute on a large scale to pensioners from some of the most vulnerable young people who rely on benefits. Is that right?

Transparency: To quote the IFS again: “None of the parties has so far identified more than a fraction of the measures they would use to hit their deficit targets.” In fact when I read that it gave me a sense of deja vu. In April 2010, the IFS published its Election Briefing, highlighting that no party had yet set out anything like enough public spending cuts to meet their objectives of cutting the deficit. The Lib Dems had produced the most detailed measures, yet these totalled only 25 per cent of the cuts needed; the Tories had identified 17 per cent, and Labour just 13 per cent. The finding attracted little scrutiny, with the media fixated instead on the personality-fest of the televised leaders’ debates. Shouldn’t all the parties – including ours – level with the public about what awaits?

Because there aren’t many options available. The reality is that after 2015 one of four things will have to happen. Either (1) big, additional cuts to spending on public services; (2) big cuts to social security; (3) delaying deficit reduction to postpone the problem; or (4) raising taxes – and not just on the rich because there simply aren’t enough of them.

Most likely it’ll be a pick ‘n mix of all four. I think we should level with the voters about what that means. But which party’s prepared to go first?

I was interested (and heartened) that my point we should be focusing any tax-cuts first on national insurance contributions (not further raising the personal allowance) got a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. The party has adjusted its tax-cutting position to include NICs, but only once the income tax threshold is raised to £12.5k (itself an expensive pledge). We should reverse that priority.

I am aware, though, it’s easy for me – unelected, not standing for election – to pontificate that “we should level with the voters”. To give Nick Clegg his due, he did just that in his conference media interviews. Cue newspaper headlines such as “Clegg will send taxes soaring should Lib Dems be elected”. Compare that with the eulogistic coverage Cameron’s fantasy finance tax-cuts attracted and it’s hard to see where the incentive is for politicians looking to get elected actually to level with the voters.

* 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.

In praise of the retiring Jeremy Browne

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2014

Jeremy Browne and I should, I guess, be ideological soul-mates. We both self-identify as Orange Bookers. We both believe in free and fair markets and that access to those markets are often the best way by which social injustice can be righted. We both want to see the Lib Dems self-confidently making the case for Britain as a proudly open and liberal nation.

Yet when I read his book, Race Plan, I was, to be honest, a bit disappointed. Most of the policies put forward were notable more for being conventionally right-of-centre (for-profit schools, cutting social security and the top-rate of income tax) than radically liberal (no mention of shifting tax from income to wealth or decentralising power, for instance). And Jeremy’s passion for an active state – through massive infrastructure investment – is one area where I’m much more cautious (governments have a very bad Big Project track record: see The Blunders of our Governments for details).

But – and it is a big but – here was a current Lib Dem MP actively thinking out loud. Whether I agree with the details of his policy ideas is largely beside the point. Parliament needs more intelligent MPs prepared to think and speak for themselves. It’s all too easy to opt for the quiet life of regurgitating the latest key lines supplied by Party HQ. Much harder to think through from first principles what you believe in and why, and to be prepared to argue for it.

I spoke at a fringe meeting with Jeremy at last week’s Lib Dem conference. He seemed to be enjoying the freedom to make his case for what he termed “360-degree liberalism” (a name he openly admitted he hated). He looked relaxed and engaged, liberated even. I guess now we know why.

There are a handful of Lib Dems – those who relish internecine warfare – who have openly welcomed Jeremy’s resignation. (I’ve even previously seen a Lib Dem peer openly express the hope he’d lose his seat: nice, eh?)

Others, including some of his admirers, have regretted it but attacked him for its timing (just seven months from the election leaves the local party scant time to ensure his Lib Dem successor can bed in within the constituency).

But standing as an MP is not like most other jobs. Most of us can quit and work out our notice and no-one will think twice. Standing for re-election, especially in an age of five-year, fixed-term parliaments, means committing yourself to the crazy you-must-be-mad life of an MP until 2020. Given Jeremy’s been working for the party more or less solidly since 1993, I think we should cut him some slack. If his heart’s not in it any more – and that’s not something you can carefully plan in advance – he has to do what’s right for him and his family. Nick Clegg’s ungraciously terse, luke-warm acknowledgement of Jeremy’s resignation could at least have acknowledged that.

I might have ended up disagreeing with Jeremy more than I’d have expected, but I’m sorry he’s going. The Lib Dem parliamentary group will be weaker for his absence. Even those who’ve always felt (righteously, wrongly) that he should have joined the Tories might come to miss him more than they expect: internal debate is how you sharpen your arguments before you try them out on opponents much less sympathetic.

ICM has Labour ahead, Ukip moving into 3rd place, Lib Dems on 11%

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2014

The Guardian published its latest ICM poll — commonly regarded as the ‘gold standard’ — this week. The top-line (with changes on the previous months) was: Labour 35% (=), Conservatives 31% (-2), Ukip 14% (+5), Lib Dems 11% (+1) and Others 10% (-3).

icm poll - oct 2014

Polling in September/October tends to fluctuate, as the noise of conference season often leads to spikes in support for each party in turn which soon fade. There have been two additional events which may have further confused matters: the Scottish independence referendum and last week’s Clacton by-election.

It’s the latter event which is probably responsible for Ukip’s surge (up from 9% to 14%), especially as ICM polled in the two days immediately after Douglas Carswell’s victory, and his party’s near-miss in Heywood and Middleton, were dominating the news headlines. Let’s see what happens to the party’s support in November (which will be in the lead-up to Mark Reckless’s defence of his Rochester and Strood seat following his defection from the Tories).

The Lib Dems will be relieved to see ICM continuing to show the party’s support in double figures. This is at variance with other pollsters, in particular YouGov whose daily polls dominate discussion, which tend to show the Lib Dems a little lower, at 7-9%. This is due to the different methodologies used by the polling companies as noted in July here. I stand by my comment then:

ICM is a combination of a snapshot poll and also a forecast. What has happened in previous elections is that pollsters begin to converge the closer it gets to polling day. Lib Dem voters who are least likely to say they are certain to vote for the party make up their minds later; and we are more likely to benefit from tactical votes in key seats. Of course, no-one knows if what’s held true in previous elections will also hold true in 2015. But for the moment at least I’d be more inclined to bet that ICM and YouGov won’t be far apart come May 2015 and that will be because YouGov has moved towards ICM rather than the reverse.

There has been much internal anguish in Labour since its (by all accounts) depressingly flat conference, Ed Miliband’s fluffed leader’s speech, and their poor showing in the Heywood by-election. Yet on the basis of this poll the party would win an overall majority of 36 according to UKPollingReport’s swing calculator. Add to that Lord Ashcroft’s findings that Labour is winning better in the key marginals and it’s enough to wonder why its supporters are quite so in the doldrums.

The explanation is here, from Labour blogger Hopi Sen:

In the last thirty years, only one opposition has improved their poll ratings between the final conference season of the political cycle and the subsequent general election. In every other instance, the opposition has declined by between three and thirteen points. I’d put my expectation on the low side of this, because when oppositions have declined by larger amounts, they have enjoyed larger starting poll shares than Labour does now – going from 49% to 35% in 1991-92 and from 52% to 44% in 1997. I don’t expect that sort of dip. Absent a ‘Winter of Discontent’, you’d expect Labour’s vote share to fall perhaps three to five points between now and the election, putting Labour somewhere between 29-33%. This is more or less in line with what Stephen Fishers’ election predictors suggest.

Labour’s prime consolation can be explained in one noun: Tories. David Cameron and his party show no apparent interest in exploiting either Labour’s absent opposition — or the Lib Dems’ own difficulties — to win the centre ground of British politics. Instead they’ve retreated to their traditional terra firma of Europe, immigration and benefits. Long gone are the days when David Cameron’s brand of compassionate Conservatism was winning 49% of the vote (not that long ago: summer 2008). My best guess is they’ll beat Labour in the popular vote; but my best guess is also that won’t be good enough.

* 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.

Israel-Palestine conflict: the views of Lib Dem members

by Stephen Tall on October 13, 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. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

This afternoon the House of Commons debates the issue of Israel and Palestine: a backbench motion calling on the British government to recognise the state of Palestine. This follows the summer’s latest outbreak in the ongoing Israel–Gaza conflict, with seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Gazans. We asked Lib Dem members for their views…

61% sympathise primarily with the Palestinians

Thinking of the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, do your own sympathies lie more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?

    7% – My sympathies lie more with the Israelis
    61% – My sympathies lie more with the Palestinians
    30% – Neither
    2% – Don’t know

Some 6-in-10 of those who responded said their sympathies in this conflict lie primarily with the Palestinians; just 7% said Israel. However, a substantial minority, 30%, answered neither, and many others too pointed to culpability on both sides – here’s a sample of your comments:

• Two wrongs do not make a right. Civilians on both sides bear the brunt of the fear
• Like it or not, whenever a ceasefire was broken, it was always the Palestinians that broke it.
• Both parties recognising the de facto 1948 boundaries for Israel is the starting point to resolution. That does require Israel to withdraw from settlements. The US, Britain and Europe are hypocrital with sanctions against Russsia but not Israel
• If only the Palestinians would stop lobbing rockets over the border, then my sympathies would be with them.
• I have much sympathy with Israeli citizens, just not with their government.
• My sympathies lie with the ordinary folks on both sides who are badly served by their elected representatives. However, Israel must bear the brunt of disapproval because it wants to be considered amongst the Western Liberal Democracies, and it is failing to live up to the high standard we should expect.
• I think I sympathise more with the Palestinians – but the civilians – and the civilians of Israel not the Government.
• My sympathies are with the peace makers on both sides. It is a mistake to try to reduce the options to pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, I want a free Palestine and a secure Israel, I oppose the extremists on either sides who want to find a solution at the expense of the other
• Extreme elements of both are not worthy of sympathy – and the ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer especially when they put their hope in the wrong people, i.e. in Gaza.

81% say the Israeli bombing of Gaza was unjustifiable

During the summer, the Israeli air force has been bombing the Gaza strip. From what you have seen or heard do you think this bombing was justified or unjustified?

    11% – Justified
    81% – Unjustified
    8% – Don’t know

Some 8-in-10 Lib Dems responded that the Israeli government’s response to Hamas’s firing of rockets was unjustified — at least in its extent: the comments showed a few more commenters accepting Israel’s argument that it had the right to defend itself. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Israel is a state, as such it must expect to be held to higher standard than non-state actors. It should be obvious that there can be no peace until the Palestinians are allowed a future worth having.
• Sledge hammers to crack nuts
• Massive overreaction based on the principal of “Collective punishment” a technique taught to the Israelis by the British!
• The bombing was justified, the extent of it probably was not
• The bombings are the product of failure in Israeli politics.
• At the level of intensity, unquestionably unjustified
• This was completely disproportionate and a war crime
• It might have been justified in principle, but the way it was carried out almost certainly broke international law.
• What would the Americans have said had the RAF bombed catholic areas of Belfast in the height of the troubles to “take out IRA houses”?
• If they were worried about tunnels entering Israel, all they had to do was locate and block them on Israeli soil. Their air defences bring down most rockets and should be further improved to bring them all down.

47% say Israeli government most to blame – but 40% say blame should be shared with Hamas

The Israeli bombings have caused a substantial number of Palestinian civilian casualties in the Gaza strip. Who do you think is most to blame for this?

    11% – Hamas – for stationing their military targets and equipment in civilian areas
    47% – Israel – for attacking military targets in areas where civilians are also likely to be killed
    40% – Both equally
    2% – Don’t know

A plurality of Lib Dem members, 47%, felt the Israeli government bore chief responsibility for the number of Palestinian civilian casualties. However, 4-in-10 felt the blame deserved to be equally shared. And 1-in-10 felt Hamas bore the most blame. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• Obviously Hama isn’t blameless but they are the weaker party and there would be less need for Hamas if the Israelis had, right from the beginning, practised a fair give and take.
• Hamas want Israel to be seen to kill innocent people. Israel kindly obliges. They seem locked in a spiral of death.
• It was a massive over reaction. Gaza is like a huge jail.
• I wait to be convince that the targets were all military.
• Israel. As the occupying power they are totally out of order behaving like this
• Even though using “human shields” is illegitimate, this does not justify injuries to civilians.
• The question accepts Israeli propaganda. A lot of their attacks have not been against military targets.
• Israel’s tolerance of civilian casualties is far higher than the UK and also even the US.
• UN buildings are no longer safe havens in Gaza and one cannot excuse Israeli behaviour in this regard. With the land area of Gaza so densely populated and Palestinians unable to leave then civilian casualties are inevitable.
• Hamas bears its share of responsibility – just that Israel was disproportionate and bears more
• Population density in Gaza leaves many civilians with little choice in whether or not they are in close proximity to Hamas people.
• Difficult for Israel but they have fallen into Hamas’ trap.
• If your enemy puts weapon placements near civilians, then either you find a sufficiently accurate weapon or else you don’t shoot. Israel has massive military superiority and highly effective anti-missile defences: there is no excuse for not following this principle.
• We were told that the Israeli military were carrying out investigations. I’ve not seen the results. Of course those firing rockets into Israel from civilian areas are culpable and beneath contempt. However, the facts are that very few rockets elude Israeli defences and of those that do, the number causing casualties is almost zero.
• Both are to blame; but Israel had the choice as to whether to start the blitz
• Hamas are also to blame but not I think equally. They have no other recourse. The Israelis hold all the cards and would be widely respected by the thinking world if they showed compassion to others and stopped thinking that violence is the only way to achieve peace, when clearly it isn’t.
• Stupid leading answers which don’t express my views – don’t frame the answers in this way again. My answer is “Israel – for deliberately attacking civilian targets with no military justification, purely to cause suffering within the civilian population.”
• The story is the fault of both sides. Both need to co-operate, learn some trust and re-build.

79% say Hamas launching rocket attacks into Israel was unjustifiable

During the summer, Hamas has been launching rocket attacks into Israel. From what you have seen or heard do you think these rocket attacks are justified or unjustified?

    10% – Justified
    79% – Unjustified
    11% – Don’t know

Pretty much the same proportion of Lib Dem members who think Israel’s actions unjustified (81%) also think Hamas’s actions unjustified (79%) — only a minority 1-in-10 think them justifiable. Here’s a sample of your comments:

• This question is asking whether terrorist attacks are justified. The answer is, of course, no.
• Hamas wants to destroy Israel. This is never going to be accepted. What is needed is serious peace talks without preconditions
• I think they are unjustifiably justified – if that makes sense
• The Palestinians have legitimate grievances, and the Israeli government seems to keep changing the goalposts for addressing them. But a far better approach would be to go down the UN recognition route…
• Justified, but not sensible, and extremely counter-productive.
• Parts of their land is occupied against International Law and another country is building settlements – how else are they to resist?
• Two wrongs don’t make a right, they are both wrong and adding more wrong is not the answer.
• Those rockets are the cause of so much. Not in the news is the rockets that Hamas have launched into Egypt occasionally.
• The rocket attacks are always a waste of time, but they’re the only weapon they’ve got. Can’t blame them for doing something even if it’s pointless.
• Unjustified because they are not targeting the right people – and stupid because they are provoking Israeli sentiment across the world.
• I couldn’t support them for doing this, but given the Israelis will not negotiate with them and will do what they like to them I do not know what I would suggest as an alternative.
• They are terrorist and should be stopped.
• Pea-shooters by comparison with Israeli weapons
• A military response – self defence against military targets – would be understandable, but these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians. They are counterproductive and a war crime.
• Unjustified in absolute terms but the Israelis need to rise above the short term and try harder to make peace.

Your views on this survey’s findings are welcome. Comments will be pre-moderated, as with all articles on this topic, to ensure the debate generates light, not just heat.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’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
  • * 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.

    General election 2015: broadcasters propose 2-3-4 leaders’ debates formula

    by Stephen Tall on October 13, 2014

    Nick Clegg in TV leaders debate, 2010The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have announced their preferred plans to hold three debates during the 2015 general election campaign. The BBC reports:

    One would involve a head-to-head debate between just the Conservative and Labour leaders, and another would include the Liberal Democrat leader. The other debate would involve all three leaders plus Mr Farage. The broadcasters said the proposed formats reflected “changes in the political landscape” since the three prime ministerial debates during the 2010 general election, which featured Conservative Mr Cameron, Labour’s Gordon Brown and Lib Dem Mr Clegg. … The broadcasters have written to the party leaders to invite them to take part. The suggested schedule is for debates on 2, 16 and 30 April, ahead of the election on 7 May.

    Here’s how the Lib Dems have responded to the proposal:

    “The Liberal Democrats have long argued that the debates last time round were of huge benefit to our democratic process and engaged millions of voters. The Liberal Democrats therefore welcome the fact that the broadcasters are seeking to make progress to ensure that the debates happen again in 2015. The Liberal Democrats, like the Labour Party, have publicly said that we would be prepared to sign up to the same 3-3-3 system we had in 2010. We do not accept the proposal that the Liberal Democrats, as a party of government, should be prevented from defending our record in one of the TV debates. That is the case we will make strongly in the negotiations that will now take place and we urge the other parties to join us around the negotiating table without excuse or delay.”

    Three quick points:

    1) The controversial bit here is the idea there should be a head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband as the leaders most likely to become Prime Minister. Had it been proposed in 2010 it might have been seen as fair enough. Yes, I know we have a parliamentary system not a presidential one; but in reality the distinction has become blurred. However, we’re not now in 2010. We’re in 2015, after what will have been a full parliament of coalition government with a Deputy Prime Minister from another party. To exclude Nick Clegg from a debate – and by so doing give him no right of reply to defend the Lib Dems’ actions in government – is clearly unfair, certainly during a campaign period. The party will contest him being excluded and they’ll be right to do so.

    2) The inclusion of Ukip’s Nigel Farage is inevitable and right. His party came first in a national election (the Euros in May), have performed strongly in two years’ local elections, are ahead of the Lib Dems in most opinion polls, and have now elected their first MP. However, fairness would then suggest the Greens – a national party of longer standing with an elected MP – should also be included (even if it’s to the Lib Dems’ and probably Labour’s advantage if they’re not).

    3) The timing of the debates – clustered within the month-long campaign – is disappointing. David Cameron was right to point out the three debates dominated the campaign in 2010 and sucked the life out of it. Far better, in this era of fixed-term parliaments when we know exactly the date of the next election, to space them out. That said, I’d expect some lessening of their importance this time around (in fact it’s arguable they made little difference to the actual result last time, though ‘Cleggmania’ clearly had a huge impact on the campaign).

    * 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.

    “Good Intentions Are Not Enough”: key questions philanthropists should ask themselves

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 2014

    philanthropy impact“Good Intentions Are Not Enough” is the title of an article I’ve written for the latest issue of Philanthropy Impact magazine. You can read it here (pages 87-89). Here’s how it begins…

    Good intentions aren’t enough. Let me give you an example. A programme called ‘Scared Straight’ was developed in the USA in the 1970s to deter juvenile delinquents and at-risk children from criminal behaviour by bringing them into contact with adult inmates to make them aware of the grim realities of life in prison.

    Early studies showed astonishingly high success rates, as much as 94 per cent, and the programme was readily adopted in the UK and other countries. However, none of these evaluations had a ‘comparison group’ showing what would have happened to the participants if they had not taken part. When tested through Randomised Controlled Trials it was discovered participation in ‘Scared Straight’ resulted in higher rates of offending behaviour than non-participation: “doing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the program”. Yet it continues to be championed by some British police forces despite the clear evidence it actively increases crime.

    What this illustrates is the importance of ‘the counter-factual’ – ie, what would have happened otherwise? This is a crucial question for philanthropists, all of whom will have greater calls on their generosity than they can possibly meet. Inevitably this means there is an opportunity cost in making a donation: whatever money you give to one charity is, of necessity, money denied to another.

    All philanthropists I’ve met are acutely aware of this responsibility. But how many can confidently say their decisions to fund one charity over another are always based on sound evidence? And how many, when making their donation, also seek to ensure the work they are supporting is being robustly evaluated to ensure it’s doing the good everyone hopes it will? Put bluntly, how do you know your money isn’t being used to fund another ‘Scared Straight’, a programme developed with the best of intentions, but which inadvertently did harm to the young people it aimed to help?

    To read on here’s the link again.

    My must-reads this week October 10, 2014

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 2014

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

    A Lib Dem reshuffle? If it happens, here’s who party members would like to see promoted

    by Stephen Tall on October 10, 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. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

    Jo & Lynne top choices for promotion to cabinet

    The Lib Dems are expected to hold a ministerial reshuffle after the Scottish independence referendum. Which minister would you most like to see promoted to the cabinet?

      20% – Jo Swinson Minister, Business, Innovation & Skills
      19% – Lynne Featherstone Minister, Department for International Development
      16% – Steve Webb Minister, Department for Work and Pensions
      10% – David Laws Minister, Department for Education (jointly with the Cabinet Office)
      6% – Norman Lamb Minister, Department of Health
      4% – Simon Hughes Minister, Ministry of Justice
      4% – Baroness (Susan) Kramer Minister, Department for Transport
      4% – Norman Baker Minister, Home Office
      1% – Tom Brake Deputy Leader of the Commons
      1% – Baroness (Jenny) Randerson, Minister, Wales Office
      1% – Dan Rogerson Minister, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
      1% – Lord (Jim) Wallace Lib Dem Leader, House of Lords
      1% – Don Foster Lib Dem Chief Whip, Commons
      1% – Stephen Williams Minister, Department for Communities and Local Government
      4% – None
      9% – Don’t know

    David Cameron reshuffled his ministerial team in July. When Nick Clegg didn’t follow suit the assumption was that he was waiting until after the Scottish referendum in order to promote Jo Swinson (who would probably have been appointed at the last reshuffle had she not been due to go on maternity leave) to the cabinet, ensuring the Lib Dems don’t go a full parliament without appointing a woman to the top tier of government.

    It was expected current Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael would make way for her. I heard at conference that this plan had fallen apart and that Alistair has no intention of moving from his post. And with none of the other four – Alexander, Cable, Clegg, Davey – likely to want to move on, Nick’s wish to promote her may come to nothing. We shall see.

    Jo Swinson tops our members’ poll, though Lynne Featherstone – widely considered to have been one of the party’s most effective ministers – is only just behind. Also scoring well is Steve Webb, though his deep knowledge of his pensions post probably means he’s considered indispensable in his current role.

    Huppert & Kennedy top choices for promotions to ministerial office

    And which Lib Dem MP would you most like to see appointed as a minister?

      16% – Julian Huppert
      12% – Charles Kennedy
      10% – Tim Farron
      6% – Tessa Munt
      6% – Jenny Willott
      5% – Lorely Burt
      4% – Jeremy Browne
      3% – Sarah Teather
      2% – Martin Horwood
      2% – Duncan Hames
      4% – None
      5% – Don’t know

    Here are the top 10 choices of Lib Dem MPs to be appointed to ministerial office. Activists’ favourite Julian Huppert tops the list, with Charles Kennedy not far behind. Tim Farron, who’ll become eligible when his term as party president expires at the end of the year, comes in third. I suspect, for their different reasons, all three might decline the offer if it were extended.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’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
  • * 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’s speech: 5 initial thoughts from me – and reaction from members and pundits

    by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2014

    Nick Clegg has just delivered his seventh conference speech – you can read it here. Five quick thoughts from me:

    1. It’s rare to remember party leaders’ speeches. However, I’ve a feeling this one will be remembered. Not necessarily stylistically — its rhetoric or his delivery — but for a government policy announcement: the emphasis on mental health-care which Nick made a centre-piece and which he has said will be on the front page of the party’s manifesto. Yes, there were plenty of positioning soundbites. But, more importantly, this announcement demonstrated, better than any finely crafted words, the point of Lib Dems being in government: to put liberal values (tolerance, respect, fairness) into action.

    2. That Nick Clegg gave this speech at all – and that it was well-received within the hall — deserves a mention. After all, just four months ago Nick Clegg was under fire from many within his party (yes, including me) following the party’s dire results in the local and European elections. Yet here he was today, closing a conference that everyone has commented upon was strikingly upbeat, and rewarded with a genuine standing ovation. That doesn’t mean everything within the party is suddenly rosy, far from it, but Nick’s buoyant performance this week is some contrast to the red-eyed, exhausted Nick of a matter of weeks ago.

    3. Clegg has, undoubtedly, been helped by the Lib Dem conference following Labour and the Tories. Labour’s week was flat, Miliband’s speech a disaster for him. The Tories’ was jubilant, Cameron’s speech a triumph for him. In their different ways, they’ve helped remind Lib Dems why our party exists. For all the policy overlap we have with Labour, they just do not look like a government-in-waiting. The opposite is true of the Tories: little remaining policy overlap and all too obviously waiting to be a government free of the Lib Dems.

    4. Yet there is a paradox about the Lib Dems position, or at least Nick Clegg’s. The nakedly anti-Tory positioning of senior ministers, from Clegg down, has not been faked. There is genuine scorn for the Tories’ rightward tilt – banging on about Europe, immigration and benefits again — but still there is a clear sense that Clegg would rather spend another five years disagreeing vigorously with Cameron than five years broadly agreeing with Miliband.

    5. At its heart, this was a plea in favour of Lib Dems not turning their backs on being in government. Clegg made his pitch in a way cannily designed to appeal to Lib Dems’ anti-establishment instincts: “what the [Establishment] vested interests would relish most is to eject us from office before our time is up”. He feels he has grown-up through being in government; and that it’s only through being in government that parties learn how to deliver for their voters. Even if this was his last major conference speech as leader, he wants that message to resonate.

    That’s what I thought – here’s what some of you thought…

    And here’s what the pundits had to say…

    * 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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