What if… David Davis had won the Tory leadership contest in 2005?

by Stephen Tall on August 31, 2014

Cameron and DavisWhat-ifs are, as Peter Snow would say, just a bit of fun: a counter-factual parlour game for historians. It is impossible to know exactly how one event ricocheting off in a different direction would have altered the subsequent reality.

This one does genuinely intrigue me, though: What if David Davis had won the Tory leadership contest in 2005, rather than David Cameron? Davis did, after all, begin as favourite. His disastrous 2005 party conference – a dud photo-op and a lacklustre speech – coupled with David “let sunshine win the day” Cameron’s triumph meant his second leadership attempt sank without trace. He was trounced 68%-32% in the all-member ballot that followed.

But what if he’d won? Would David Davis have been a more effective leader of the Tories than David Cameron has turned out to be?

The case for is simply stated. Davis had the better back story. Raised on a council estate in Tooting, a grammar school boy who failed his A-levels and had to work extra shifts to earn the money to re-take them to get into university, a successful career in business, not elected to Parliament until he was 38: it’s a school-of-hard-knocks-made-good CV that the gilded Cameron would give his Bullingdon Club coat-tails to be able to boast.

Davis was the more authentically Thatcherite candidate: non-establishment, economically dry, socially conservative and, like Her, also not afraid to be pragmatic on Europe (he made enemies on the Right as a whip for the Major government during the Maastricht Treaty travails; and he, wisely, refused to commit the Tories to pulling out of the centre-right EPP group in the European parliament – a foolish campaign pledge made by a desperate Cameron which has bedevilled him ever since).

It is hard to imagine a Davis-led Tory party promising to focus “not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing” or agreeing to match Labour spending plans in government or to introduce same-sex marriage within Coalition. In short, he would (his attachment to civil liberties notwithstanding) have acted like a traditional Conservative leader, keeping party members happy, while at the same time presenting himself to the voters as an ordinary, grounded guy, the voice of common sense. Tough, not a toff. There would have been much less space on the right for Nigel Farage’s so-called “People’s Army” of Ukip.

The case against can be stated more briefly. There is a reason David Davis lost the leadership: his campaign failed to fire. He fell at, pretty much, the first hurdle. What hope, then, would he have had against Labour’s fighting machine? Would he have even attempted to broaden the Tory Party’s appeal as Cameron did, initially with huge success? Let’s not forget, after all, the Tories were polling up to 45% just a year before the 2010 election. Wouldn’t Davis have simply ended up as the steady-as-she-goes, Michael Howard-style leader: shoring up the base, failing to win converts? And then there’s his flaky personality: that bizarre resignation with which, seemingly on a whim, he ended his front-line political career.

Which way would it have gone? Would Davis’s un-flashy approach have attracted a public tired of Blair’s bling? Or would that USP have been detonated by Gordon Brown’s accession, with Davis leading the Tories to a fourth defeat in the 2007 election-that-was? And what if Brown had flunked that decision even in this alternative history: would Davis have fared better than Cameron in 2010? And, if he hadn’t, how likely would it have been that he would have made a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems to join a coalition government?

That’s the joy of what-ifs: there are no answers, only questions.

* 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.

And the top book read by Lib Dem MPs this summer was…

by Stephen Tall on August 30, 2014

capital pikettyPolling firm ComRes has published its annual list of the books MPs have been reading this year, based on a survey of 154 MPs weighted by party and region to be representative of the House of Commons.

Here’s what Lib Dem MPs have taken to the beach with them…

2014
1. Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty
2. When Britain Burned the White House – Peter Snow

(And here’s what they took last year…

2013
1. What Has Nature Ever Done For Us – Tony Juniper)

Piketty’s tome polled strongly with MPs of all three main parties; though Margaret Thatcher (who topped last year’s list) wasn’t far behind:

All MPs

2014
1. Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty
2. Margaret Thatcher – Charles Moore
3. Hard Choices – Hilary Clinton
4. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

2013
1. Margaret Thatcher – Charles Moore
2. This Boy – Alan Johnson
3. Five Days in May – Andrew Adonis
4. Edmund Burke – Jesse Norman

* 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.

A new Lib Dem presidential candidate enters the race

by Stephen Tall on August 30, 2014

daisy cooperThis is the text of the email I received this morning from Daisy Cooper:

Today, I’m delighted to announce my candidacy for Liberal Democrat Party President, with the backing of Catherine Bearder MEP, Norman Baker MP, experienced councillors and some of the party’s finest campaigners.

I have huge ambitions for our party. I’m 32 and I’m prepared to spend the next 50 years of my life fighting for our political beliefs. The next few months will be challenging but they also present an unrivalled opportunity for us to lay the foundations for a Liberal Revival.

Our Councillors and grass roots campaigners are the forgotten army on which our future depends – in this party, our place is front and centre.

As President, I would:

1. FOCUS ON WINNING. We must use May 2015 as an opportunity for every member to experience winning, gain confidence to campaign on our messages, and develop their campaign skills. That’s how I believe we’ll motivate members to go out and win.

2. INSPIRE DONORS TO SCALE UP SUPPORT. Donors need confidence to invest knowing we’re a political force that’s here to stay. I would showcase the party’s finest campaigners and new talent to show we’re the future of British politics.

3. RE-BUILD & RE-LAUNCH. After May, we must launch an ambitious national scheme to recruit members in such numbers that we will within 20 years wipe out all ‘black-holes’, be as diverse as the UK, and re-build our local government base and membership from community level up.

She explains more at her campaign website which you can access here.

The other three candidates in the contest are: Sal Brinton, Linda Jack and Liz Lynne.

* 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 2

by Stephen Tall on August 30, 2014

Congratulations to Nick Davies, Jon Featonby and George Murray, who lead the LibDemVoice Fantasy Football League after Week 2, scoring a cumulative 137, 136 and 135 points respectively. Only three players appears in all three of their teams, by the way: Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.

There are 135 players in total and you can join the league by clicking here. All the rules are available to read here. As predicted, my appearance in the top 5 proved fleeting. I’m now languishing in 17th place. Not lost my deposit yet, though…

LDV FANTASY FOOTBALL_2

* 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 #73: Mary Beard

by Stephen Tall on August 29, 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 - mary beard

Mary Beard

Professor of classics at the University of Cambridge
Reason: for taking a stand against Twitter ‘trolls’ and then giving them a second chance

This series has taken an unannounced summer break. Partly my inertia, mostly I’ve found myself scratching around these past few weeks searching for Liberal Heroes and drawing a blank amist what has been an unrelentingly depressing summer in international affairs.

That’s a little unfair: Sir John Major, for example, deserves a mention as a Conservative prepared to praise immigrants unambiguously as “people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families”. So, too, does another Conservative, Michael Fabricant for his work to lift the restrictions on gay men donating blood: “Against this background of huge social change in the cause of equality, it is still forbidden for a sexually active gay man to donate blood.”

But it was Mary Beard who prompted this column to come out of hibernation. This Guardian article explains why:

The Cambridge University professor, one of the country’s foremost classicists who has fought a very public battle about online etiquette after receiving a torrent of abuse on Twitter, said she has taken to befriending her vilifiers. They include the university student Oliver Rawlings, whom she publicly named and shamed in July last year after he sent her an abusive message. Speaking in an interview with the New Yorker magazine, Beard revealed the pair had remained in touch after he took her to lunch to apologise for sending her a tweet that read: “You filthy old slut” followed by a derogatory comment about her genitalia. Beard retweeted it to her 47,000 followers to out her abuser, but said she had now taken to writing job recommendations for Rawlings so he didn’t suffer in the long term for “one moment of idiocy”.

“He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.” She added: “In general, I am more concerned to be sure that people don’t use the internet in this way (or don’t do so again) than to seek ‘punishment’.” Beard’s tactic of naming-and-shaming also prompted Rawlings to make a public apology on his own Twitter account, writing: “I sincerely apologise for my trolling. I was wrong and very rude. Hope this can be forgotten and forgiven. I feel this had been a good lesson for me. Thanks 4 showing me the error of my ways.”

Not everyone will feel able to take on Professor Beard’s mantle, over-look the rudeness of a misogynist coward hiding behind a Twitter avatar, and attempt to engage him in mature debate; and by no means every ‘troll’ will respond in a way which makes such an attempt worthwhile. But for her willingness to educate (and his in learning) Mary Beard is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* 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.

My recommended reading for today August 29, 2014

by Stephen Tall on August 29, 2014

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

The 3 Lib Dem seats where the Greens are a threat

by Stephen Tall on August 29, 2014

green party logoIt’s three months since the Lib Dems were beaten into fifth place at the European elections: the party which nudged us out was the Greens. Ukip may be grabbing the media attention, but it’s the party of Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas which poses the bigger threat to our party.

It’s not hard to see why. Ian Warren of the @election-data blog has analysed which groups of voters were most likely to vote Green last May. See if you can spot a trend:

  • Well educated singles living in purpose built flats
  • City dwellers owning houses in older neighbourhoods
  • Singles and sharers occupying converted Victorian houses
  • Young professional families settling in better quality older terraces
  • Diverse communities of well-educated singles living in smart, small flats
  • Owners in smart purpose built flats in prestige locations, many newly built
  • Students and other transient singles in multi-let houses
  • Young renters in flats with a cosmopolitan mix

They are, of course, all groups which in the past have tended to be favourable to the Lib Dems. It’s no surprise then that three of the top 10 seats where these groups account for very large proportions of total households are Lib Dem-held seats:

  • Cardiff Central (41.1% of households) – 13% Lib Dem majority over Lab (Jenny Willott)
  • Bristol West (37.6% of households) – 21% Lib Dem maj over Lab (Stephen Williams)
  • Manchester Withington (33.9% of households) – Lib Dem maj of 4.1% over Lab (John Leech)

The Greens don’t stand a chance of winning any of them. But if enough 2010 Lib Dem voters choose to go with them next May it’ll be a boost for Labour. As I first wrote seven years ago, in November 2007:

“As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.”

* 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 world looks complicated, our politics looks small

by Stephen Tall on August 28, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here on Tuesday. Apologies in advance: it’s mostly a depressing read (unusually – I’m generally an optimist). 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.

I’m writing this on a damp, dank, grey, grim August bank holiday, a too-obvious metaphor for the current state of British politics. The summer began with reflections on a century-old international conflict the origins of which few of us today consider comprehensible. It was an apt scene-setter.

A succession of crises have flared before our eyes. The shooting down of flight MH17 with its 298 passengers and crew, almost certainly a tragic mistake by Putin-backed Russian forces aiming, bit by bit, to re-create the Russian empire. The latest senselessness in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which each side believes itself to be righteous and peace achievable if only the other lot will capitulate. And the emergence of the so-called Islamic State, the ‘too extreme for al-Qaeda’ group which has taken brutal control of swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Such horrors could have galvanised us. Instead they seem to have paralysed us. The world looks all just a bit too complicated now.

We’ve grown used to thinking of Russia as the plucky underdog, far removed from its sinister John Le Carre-esque machinations. Nigel Farage even named Vladimir Putin as the politician he most admired (though he did at least caveat this was “as an operator, but not as a human being”). Yet it’s becoming clearer by the month that Russia is an ever-growing threat to the former Soviet states’ independence and freedom. The West’s, and in particular the European Union’s, sluggish response to its aggression has been appallingly complacent.

Meanwhile Israel, once seen as democracy’s safeguard amidst Middle East tumult, has become increasingly regarded as a belligerent, pariah state, as its right-wing government rains rockets on Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’s terrorism. In Northern Ireland it took the rapprochement of the two most ultra parties on each side – the unionist DUP and the republican Sinn Féin – to bring about peace. Yet the leadership opposites which attracted in that seemingly irreconcilable conflict appear to repel in the Levant’s sui generis version. Despite the fact there is an achievable peace, there’s little sign of a peace process by which it can be achieved. Or as Shimon Peres put it, “the good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel. The bad news is there is no tunnel.”

And then there’s Iraq. There is always, it seems, Iraq. I was one of the million-or-so who marched with thousands of fellow Lib Dems in London in 2003 to protest against a rush to war. I didn’t do so as some kind of conchy refusenik. I belong to a party whose then leader, Paddy Ashdown, was among the first to urge the case for liberal intervention in the former Yugoslavia; and whose successor, Charles Kennedy, backed the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. But, like Robin Cook, I was “troubled by the suspicion that if the hanging chads in Florida had gone the other way and Al Gore had been elected, we would not now be about to commit British troops.” We – and, more importantly, the Iraqi people – are still reaping what we sowed more than a decade ago.

So, too, are the Syrians from whom we turned away 12 months ago as its leader gassed them, with the House of Commons (pusillanimously reflecting the tired wishes of the public) voting for pre-emptive inaction. Some, even now, think Bashir Assad is a man with whom we have no choice but to do business to check the advance of Islamic State. No. That might be the Putin approach – amorally to deal with whoever best suits your own selfish interest - but it should not be what we in the West do. The enemy of our enemy should remain just that: we should not extend the hand of Realpolitik to clasp that of a man who bears responsibility for the deaths of 190,000 of his country’s citizens.

Against this backdrop, the UK’s domestic politics seem small. Even for August, the row over who should be the next clerk of the House of Commons is perhaps the most boringly insignificant SW1 event yet. Meanwhile the Conservatives are busy obsessing about Europe (what else?), Labour is mounting a silent summer offensive (the only offensive thing so far has been Austin Mitchell’s dinosaur views on women candidates), and the Lib Dems are still struggling, 18 months on, to deal with the allegations of sexual impropriety against Lord Rennard with any semblance of competence.

True, the debate on Scottish independence is a big, meaty issue, even if the SNP’s Alex Salmond seems determined to assert that virtually everything will remain the same if his nation secedes: same currency, same Head of State, same BBC. Apparently the only thing he would change is the Coalition’s NHS record, yet his own government already has devolved responsibility for health and social care policy and funding. Mind you, it is rather deliciously ironic to hear Labour politicians express outrage at the “scandalous deceit” of another party scare-mongering over NHS privatisation.

Beyond Caledonia, though, politics sleeps, lulled by its own ennui. We’re approaching the seventh anniversary of Northern Rock’s collapse, presaging the start of the great financial crisis. Austerity continues to stretch ahead for years to come, a fact admitted by the three main parties yet which none of them are facing up to with any real honesty. The plain fact is there’s virtually no room for manoeuvre: the deficit is stubbornly high, yet the harshest public spending cuts are still to come. Ambitious politicians, yearning to cut taxes or indulge in giveaways, find themselves boxed in by their own fiscal prudence. The supposed highlight of last year’s conference season was Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices for 20 months, saving households £120. To put that in its true perspective, I could get £100 right now just by switching bank accounts. This is bargain basement retail politics: it’s all we can afford.

Summer ends, autumn beckons. Another series of X-Factor and Downton, then party conferences, Christmas ads, and an election still to come. I’ve just looked outside again. It’s still raining.

++ Coup for Ukip as Tory MP Carswell defects, triggers by-election in Clacton

by Stephen Tall on August 28, 2014

Douglas Carswell, elected in 2010 as Conservative MP for Clacton, has today announced he’s joining Ukip and will fight a by-election under his new party’s banner.

In one sense, the news isn’t a surprise. Carswell is a member of the Tory awkward squad, its sixth most rebellious backbencher according to Revolts.co.uk, having defied the party whip on 46 occasions during this Parliament.

But on another level it’ll be a real shock to the Tories: Carswell’s right-wing brand is much less swivel-eyed than that of many of his fellow rebels like Philip Hollobone and David Nuttall. He’s generally a thoughtful, independent-minded politician, as he showed with his most recent book The End of Democracy. He is not one of the classic ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ as David Cameron once famously dismissed Ukip supporters.

More importantly he has a very good chance of winning the by-election – he has a majority of over 12,000 and Clacton’s demographics are very Ukip-friendly – thereby giving Nigel Farage’s party its first elected MP. (Bob Spink was Ukip’s first ever MP, but not elected as such.) That would give a further injection to the Ukip publicity machine and give them a better chance of getting on the podium of the televised leaders’ debates. There’s also the hint this isn’t the only Tory-to-Ukip defection we may see in what remains of this parliament.

Coupled with today’s net immigration figures – up from 175,000 to 243,000, leaving the Tory pledge to reduce it to tens of thousands in tatters – and it’s been a good one for Ukip and pretty terrible for the Tories.

* 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.

Happy Birthday to us: 8 years old today

by Stephen Tall on August 27, 2014

libdemvoice8 years ago today LibDemVoice appeared for the very first time. The first story? ‘Hughes certain to be challenged for party Presidency’. He, erm, wasn’t.

But, still, the site soon established itself as a fixture in the Lib Dem blogsophere thanks to the early efforts of the founding team: Rob Fenwick, Mark Pack, Ryan Cullen, Alex Foster, Will Howells and Richard Huzzey (Ryan and Alex are still with the site to this day).

There was a brief wobble in May 2007, when Rob announced his departure. But a new team stepped up — that’s when I joined — and over the years the team has included a further 14 editorial contributors, all listed here.

My personal thanks to them all: a site like LDV could not survive and thrive without such a willing group of volunteers.

Two further thank-yous are due.

First, to all the many contributors to LDV over the years, both within and beyond the party. We’ve published 19,233 articles over the past 8 years: that’s an average of 46 articles each week. We’ve also published 246,836 comments, an average of 593 a week.

And secondly, of course, to your, our readers: the 3,102,260 of you who’ve visited LDV at least once during the last 8 years.

Here’s to the next 8…

* 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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