Labour’s Mili-madness is over. Now what?

by Stephen Tall on November 11, 2014

Labour’s moment of Mili-madness is over: Ed will lead his party into the next election. Alan Johnson’s re-re-re-confirmation that he has no appetite for the job has thwarted any chances that he might be drafted into the post as caretaker leader to see his party through the remainder of the season.

It was a plan borne of desperation. Alan Johnson is admirable in many ways — he’s had a life before politics, he speaks human — but he has ruled himself out too often, too categorically, to be a credible potential Prime Minister. His is not the modest, aw-shucks-if-I-must reluctance of an ambitious politician who knows better than to look too ambitious: it is genuine. That many in Labour have been so keen to promote a man unwilling to be promoted says much about the incumbent.

Ed Miliband’s personal ratings are dire (as bad as Nick Clegg’s and therefore much more of a drag on his party than the Lib Dem leader is on his). Labour’s ratings are diving. In part, I feel sorry for him. It would have been hard for any leader to help their party dust itself down after the May 2010 result – the second worst in its modern electoral history – and to re-bound straight into office.

Yet he has not made it easy for himself either. His economic policy has slalomed between slamming the Coalition’s austerity drive and then occasionally backing it (eg, public sector pay freeze) while famously forgetting to mention the deficit at all in his September conference speech.

The supposed 35% strategy — bolting 6% of Lib Dem defectors to Labour’s core vote of 29% — was always risky, and made decisions such as the juvenile attack-ads on Nick Clegg even harder to understand.

And then there’s been the complacent underestimating of threats from the SNP (whose potency threaten a Labour majority, as I pointed out here last July) and Ukip (who may well establish themselves as the anti-Labour alternative primed for major gains in 2020).

Should Labour have ditched Ed Miliband? One answer is this: they should have done what their opponents least wanted them to do.

There is no doubt that the Conservatives are among the most enthusiastic of #webackEd supporters because they know David Cameron beats him all ends up on the leadership stakes. They will ruthlessly exploit his perceived weaknesses in the next six months, backed up their friends in the right-wing press. Cameron will likely try and avoid a televised leaders’ debate to side-step the risk that Miliband ends up surpassing low expectations.

BY that criterion, then, Labour should #backEd over a cliff. However, it would be a risk. First, because it’s far from clear any of his probable replacements would actually prove much better than him. And secondly, because Ed is the symptom, not the cause, of Labour’s problem. The central question was set out by the Labour blogger Hopi Sen in 2011:

To win again, we must confront the issue that Brown sought to elide, successfully as Chancellor, disastrously ineffectively as Prime Minister. What is the role of the progressive state when you are at the rough upper bound of state spending as a proportion of GDP that a market economy seems to find politically and economically acceptable? What is the progressive case in a fiscally conservative time?

Though Ed Miliband has tried to grapple with the problem, via wonky solutions such as pre-distribution, he has failed to offer a clear, compelling solution about how, at a time of austerity, Labour will deliver (apologies) a stronger economy and a fairer society. But have Alan Johnson or Yvette Cooper or Chuka Umunna got a better answer? Unless they have, it’s far from clear that switching the guy at the top will make a jot of difference, even if they can eat a bacon sandwich attractively.

* 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.

European Arrest Warrant: I’m a sceptic (but not a Eurosceptic)

by Stephen Tall on November 10, 2014

As I write, the House of Commons is debating the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

Well, sort of. In fact, the Speaker, John Bercow, has already pointed out that “there will not today be a vote on the specific matter of membership of the European arrest warrant”. But Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling say there will. In the Tories’ Alice in Wonderland world, when they use the word vote it means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

As with any debate involving Europe, there is a danger of it being used as a proxy for the wider in/out debate. Tories are largely against the EAW. Because Europe. Lib Dems and Labour are largely for the EAW. Because Europe. However, you don’t have to buy into the Tories Euroscepticism to be an EAW-sceptic.

Indeed, much kudos for the reforms to the EAW the Government has introduced should be given to the Lib Dems’ Sarah Ludford who, as an MEP, successfully championed the reform of the EAW, noting earlier this year:

“In the ten years since it came into force the warrant has become a vital tool in the fight against crime, enabling hundreds of Britain’s most-wanted criminals to be brought to justice. To abandon it would be would be a gift to criminals and a slap in the face for their victims. However, there remain serious concerns over a number of cases that have led to serious miscarriages of justice, and the warrant is sometimes used disproportionately to extradite suspects for petty crimes or as an investigative fishing tool for cases that are not ready for trial.”

However, it’s not clear that these have yet gone far enough. Here, for instance, is director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, highlighting her concerns:

Now is a good time to remind ourselves of the real injustice the EAW, in its current form, creates. Take the case of Andrew Symeou, a British student extradited to Greece in 2009. Serious doubts emerged about the reliability of the evidence against Symeou and he was ultimately acquitted of manslaughter, but not before spending 10 months in appalling prison conditions away from his friends and family. The case against him was fundamentally flawed, but our courts were powerless to prevent the extradition. The same is true of Garry Mann, the former fireman extradited to Portugal in 2010 following a trial described by British judges as an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.

If the Government had succeeded in reforming the system to prevent such abuses, that would be fine. But it hasn’t, says Shami:

Liberty has long called for reform of EU extradition arrangements as part of our wider campaign against unfair, summary extradition. We have never argued that the warrant should be dropped, but we have consistently called for greater safeguards to allow a balance to be struck between the broad public interest in effective extradition and the protection of basic rights and freedoms. Among the protections we have sought is a requirement that a basic or prima facie case be made in a domestic court before a British resident is extradited. We are not alone in calling for change: earlier this year the European parliament adopted a resolution setting out essential reforms to the EAW.

But for all the prime minister’s talk of renegotiation and improvement, the EAW system remains unchanged. To give the government its due, it has inserted two safeguards into domestic law on extraditions within the EU. Liberty welcomed these measures, which are aimed at preventing disproportionate extraditions and the lengthy pre-trial detention of British residents. These are important protections, but they are unilateral changes not necessarily reflected in the EAW system. What is more, the government has given with one hand and taken away with the other by introducing legislation scrapping the automatic right of appeal against extradition to countries in the EU.

There are, it seems, serious concerns still about the EAW: not the principle, but the practice. That it emanates from Europe, that the public backs it, are not in themselves reasons to back the EAW if it can still cause injustice. I hope we’ll hear from the Lib Dems in the Commons tonight how the reformed EAW our MPs will be backing addresses this.

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

LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League: how it stands after Week 10

by Stephen Tall on November 8, 2014

Congratulations to Jon Featonby, whose team “What bitey racist?” continues to lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 10, having amassed 601 points. Hot on his heels are George Murray (589) and Sam Bowman (584). There’s then a gap of 25 points separating fourth-placed Andrew Wiseman. Still, there only just over 50 points between the top 10 and three-quarters of the season left to play.


For those struggling with their form (like me) don’t forget you have a Wildcard — allowing you to make unlimited free transfers (ie, ditch your current team and start again) — you can use at any point in the season. You get another Wildcard after Week 20.

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

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

Six months from 7th May 2015: how the polls are looking and what to look for

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2014

There are three key things about opinion polls.

The first is what matters are trends, not individual poll fluctuations.

The second is they’re snapshots, not forecasts. (A point made by Lord Ashcroft, to his credit, every time he publishes his latest poll finding.)

The third is the next general election won’t be decided by national party vote shares but by who wins in 650 individual seats. (A point often made by PoliticalBetting’s Mike Smithson.)

Here are the trends…

Here’s a graph which focuses solely on the first of these. It shows the result of every single opinion poll – courtesy Mark Pack’s invaluable spreadsheet – in the 12 months from October 2013 to September 2014 (incl.):

poll trends 2014

What it shows is clear enough:

The Labour vote is declining, down from 39% to 35%. Once October’s polls are included this will show a further fall. It is this trend which is the explanation for the last two days’ Mili-madness, with Labour MPs’ private grumbles about their leader being publicly aired with no particular purpose in mind.

The Tory vote is static at 33%. To state the obvious, as this is down on their 2010 result, it means the Conservatives almost certainly would not win an outright majority.

The Ukip vote is up sharply, from 11% to 15%. This is drawn from all parties (and none) but primarily still from the Conservatives.

The Lib Dem vote is down a bit, from an already low-base of 10%, to just 8%.

Here’s what explains the trends…

Blogger-pollster Anthony Wells has come up with a very handy infographic which illustrates the net movements between parties*.

What it shows is clear enough: “In 2012 all arrows pointed to Labour, they were picking up support from everywhere and holding on to what they had. Today they still have the benefit of a strong transfer from the Liberal Democrats (though even that’s declining), but they are leaking support in every direction – to the Greens, to UKIP and to the SNP.”

Similarly the Lib Dems have bled support in all directions — mostly to Labour, but also (in order of loss) to Ukip, the Conservatives and Greens.

antony wells 2014 polls shifts

Beyond the trends: forecast and individual seats…

To return to my initial three points. What the charts above show are the poll trends. But they are not forecasts, and they don’t in themselves recognise (nor are they designed to) that the general election will be decided by who wins in 650 individual seats.

Another pollster, ComRes’s Adam Ludlow, has assessed where he thinks the parties stand six months out from the general election. His take on the Lib Dems is fair and balanced, ranging from optimistic to pessimistic:

Liberal Democrats – losses almost certain, but well known to do better in their own seats. Key issue will be whether one of the main parties will have enough seats to reach 326 or be forced to form either a minority government or coalition with Lib Dem MPs.

Win: History repeats itself and the party does better in the campaign time than mid-term, getting a vote share in the mid-teens. They do especially well in their own areas, end up with 35-40 seats and enough to form a majority Coalition with one of the main parties – or ideally either. Possible but not currently looking likely.

Draw: Poll around the 8-12% mark, do well in seats where they already have MPs. End up with c.30 seats and enough to form coalition or some form of confidence and supply agreement. Looking likely except for the coalition scenario which is heavily dependent on the performance of the main parties.

Loss: Nick Clegg has banked everything on making the Liberal Democrats a “party of Government”. With significant vote and seat loss almost certain, the worst case scenario for the party is therefore that it is not possible to form a coalition. This could actually happen if the party performed as well as in the medium outcome above, but the rest of the Parliament is so hung, no party can combine with the Liberal Democrats to reach an absolute majority. Alternatively, the Liberal Democrats could face electoral decimation, left with around 7% of the vote and only 20-25 MPs. Perhaps unlikely given the historical formidability of the Lib Dems’ local campaigning organisation.

Win, lose or draw. Which of those outcomes it will be in large part depends on what happens in the Lib Dems’ 75 battleground seats. However, the difference between a national party rating of 7% or 15% (and both currently are plausible) will also be crucial. I realise that’s stating the obvious, but I’m not sure what else you were expecting six months out…

* Anthony notes: “percentages are of the whole of the sample, not of each parties support, and because the sample also includes people who say don’t know or won’t vote things don’t add up to 100%”.

* 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.

The 3 Lib Dem party president candidates on what they’d do in my “It’s 8th May 2015? scenario

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2014

libby on the wall3A couple of weeks ago I asked all three candidates for the Lib Dem party presidency a deliberately provocative question:

It’s 8th May, 2015. The Lib Dems have lost some MPs but are still a force to be reckoned with in the House of Commons. Nick Clegg announces he will step aside to let a new leader take over. No single party has an overall majority. What will you do in the next 7 days to maximise Lib Dem influence and keep the party united?

As I wrote then:

My guess is all three will be reluctant to be drawn by the premise of the question (Lib Dems losing MPs, Nick quitting). Fair enough, that’s how politics works. You’re not allowed publicly to think through the Plans B, C and D you need to be thinking through, or the media will tear you to shreds. So I’m not necessarily expecting their real answer.

The reason I’m asking it to them is simple. That scenario, above, is the most likely one to play out in six months’ time, and I really want them to be thinking now about how they handle it. Their response will likely determine not only the success of their time as party president, but also how the party handles it.

To their credit, all three answered. Quick snippets from each below, but well worth reading in full what they said, I think.

Sal Brinton

sal brinton

I would go back one step from Stephen’s scenario. It would be very disappointing if the Leader stepped aside before any contact with the President. It was evident from Labour’s experience with Gordon Brown (see Andrew Adonis book 5 Days in May) that they had not talked through together how to manage Gordon Brown’s departure, with the consequent chaos for them during that short period.

So, my 5 practical steps would be:-

1. Ensure that the parliamentary party has met at the first possible opportunity to elect (even on an acting basis) a Deputy Leader and a Chair – Sir Malcolm Bruce is standing down, and the new parliamentary party needs to elect its new chair.

Read on…

Daisy Cooper

Daisy Cooper Glasgow 2014

In very practical terms, it’s vital that we have laid the groundwork in advance of 8th May in order that we can act quickly and deliver an outcome that is right for the country and which delivers on the principles of our party. Below, I have set out my immediate priorities for the 8th May and the preparatory work that would be required.

On 8th May, my immediate priorities as President would be to:

• Engage fully with the members. In advance of the 8th May I would put in place mechanisms for consultation and two-way communication with members. I would ensure that if the Parliamentary Parties and FE agree to an arrangement with other parties that agreement will have to be approved by a Special Conference or all-member ballot in accordance with the “Triple Lock”. I will insist that amendments properly tabled to a draft Coalition Agreement are debated and voted on by the Conference.

Read on…

Liz Lynne

liz lynne

In the first seven days I will have to make sure that the constitution is adhered to in every way. As required by the constitution I would have to be the public face of the Party explaining to people outside the Party what the situation is regarding both the leadership question and any coalition talks.

Apart from safeguarding the constitution I believe in those first seven days my main task will be to keep the Party in the country informed of what is going on and make sure constituent parts of the Party are consulted widely. Part of this consultation has to be with the regional and state party chairs. I would already have put a mechanism in place so that constituency chairs and their members could also have a way in to the process in order for them to give their views to the reference group.

Read on…

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

My must-reads this week November 7, 2014

by Stephen Tall on November 7, 2014

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

Lib Dem membership up for 15th consecutive month

by Stephen Tall on November 6, 2014

Liberal Democrat badge - Some rights reserved by Paul Walter, Newbury, UKIt’s over a year since we first reported that Lib Dem membership, which plummeted in the aftermath of the formation of the Coalition, had started rising again. That meant the party finished 2013 with more members than it began the year.

Well, the upward trend is continuing, as an email to members tonight notes:

Liberal Democrat membership has once again increased in the previous quarter, which means we’ve now grown continuously for the past 15 months. Membership now stands at 44,526, which means that since July 1st 2013, our Party has has grown by more than 7%. This could not have been achieved without your hard work. So, on behalf of everyone here at HQ, thank you!

Of course that doesn’t get the party back to where it was in May 2010. But at least it’s going in the right direction now.

* 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.

“Lib Dems have made majority Conservative rule in Britain less likely for perhaps a generation”

by Stephen Tall on November 5, 2014

Rafael-BehrRafael Behr, formerly of the New Statesman now at The Guardian, is my favourite political columnist. A brilliant writer, he is also dispassionately shrewd. So it is today, when he analyses the impact of the Lib Dems in Coalition.

It’s inspired by Norman Baker’s resignation – which, he rightly observes “says more about the Home Office than it does about the coalition more widely” – and examines how the Conservatives being forced to share power with the Lib Dems in Coalition has squeezed out what remains of liberal Conservatism:

It is true that the Lib Dems have inflicted serious damage on the Tories, but not in the way many of them seem to think.

The habitual complaint is that Clegg has held the government back from the path of authentic Tory radicalism, diluting its programme with welfarist sentimentality, constitutional navel-gazing, green mania and craven Europhilia. Of course, Labour says the Lib Dems have failed to defend any of those positions. But regardless of what Clegg’s ministers may have achieved, their very presence has shunted the Tories off liberal terrain to which Cameron once laid claim. They have squatted offices that might have been filled by moderate Conservatives. They have upset hardliners, who then needed placating with jobs and policy concessions.

In the eyes of many Conservatives, the Lib Dems have contaminated a whole set of attitudes that, while never likely to dominate a Tory agenda or deliver Cameron a landslide election victory, still ought to be in the repertoire of a large governing party: respect for human rights law; pragmatic diplomacy in Brussels; urgency about climate change. Without those leavening elements, the Tory focus becomes ever narrower and angrier, which is a reason why it doesn’t have a majority in parliament now and a factor restricting its appeal next May.

Rafael Behr’s conclusion is a depressing one for those few liberal Conservatives who remain. It’s also a depressing conclusion for all other Conservatives:

There are plenty of reasons why former Lib Dem voters might feel disappointed with Clegg for joining forces with Cameron, propping up a Tory government they thought they were voting to avoid. Their consolation is that the Lib Dems have made majority Conservative rule in Britain less likely for perhaps a generation. With Clegg in government, the liberal wing of the Conservative party has atrophied. It was a weak limb in 2010; now it has withered away almost entirely, and without it Cameron’s march towards the next election looks horribly lopsided.

He’s right. The Lib Dem problem is that no-one’s going to thank us for it.

You can read the article in full here.

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

Ed Miliband channels David Hare’s The Absence of War

by Stephen Tall on November 5, 2014

In 1993, David Hare’s play The Absence of War was premiered. It tells the story of George Jones, a Labour leader who, “smothered and constricted by his cautious advisers” (to borrow from Wikipedia) loses his sense of self, of the talents that propelled him to the top.

For Jones read Neil Kinnock. But also perhaps read Ed Miliband.

This week’s New Statesman lays into the man they helped propel into the leadership:

At present, he and Labour seem trapped. … Labour wins well when its leader seems most in tune with the times and can speak for and to the people about who they are and what they want to be in the near future: Attlee in 1945, Wilson in 1966, Blair in 1997. … He needs to find a distinctive voice to articulate people’s feelings about the present moment.

It’s that sense of being trapped and voiceless which Hare’s play captures. Jones/Kinnock/Miliband was played by John Thaw in the 1995 BBC adaptation. I watched it at the time, and this moment (from 1:06:30) — inspired by the catastrophe of the Sheffield rally — has always lived with me.

In part, because it’s everyone’s worst public speaking nightmare. Mostly, because it’s the realisation that, by conforming to what you think’s expected of you, you forget how to be yourself.

When Ed Miliband won, Neil Kinnock declared “We’ve got our party back.” Perhaps. But it seems to be the party of 1959, 1979 and 1983. And that’s the problem.

Norman Baker – one of the most popular Lib Dem ministers among party members

by Stephen Tall on November 5, 2014

LibDemVoice has been surveying party members throughout the Coalition to find out how well-rated (or otherwise) Lib Dem ministers are. All these results, together with our regular Coalition tracker series, are available online here.

Here’s how Norman Baker has performed in these surveys in the four-and-a-half years he’s been a minister, first at Transport, latterly at the Home Office. The figures below are the net satisfaction ratings (ie, those very/quite satisfied minus those very/quite dissatisfied):

ldv - norman baker ratings

Initially his ratings were quite modest. In July 2010, his rating was +24%, meaning he was reckoned to be the seventh most effective minister. However, his reputation grew in office (by no means a positive trajectory enjoyed by all his colleagues). By the time he finished his tenure at Transport, his rating was +37%.

However, it was at the Home Office that his ratings grew impressively. When we surveyed party members in September his net satisfaction rating was +53%, which saw him ranked the fifth most effective Lib Dem minister in the Coalition. I strongly suspect that would have been higher still following the publication of the Home Office’s ‘Drugs: International Comparators’ study, an attempt to place evidence at the heart of Coalition policy in the teeth of opposition from Theresa May.

Small wonder, then, that Nick Clegg stated in his reply to Norman’s resignation letter, “I very much hope that if the Liberal Democrats are in government after the next election, you will once again make yourself available for Ministerial office.”

* 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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