Tuesday, 15 April 2014

And the next LibDem leader should be...

Do you know what? Call me strange, but I think it's pretty weird that five weeks away from Local and European Elections, there have been a slew of articles (some from people I have a great deal of respect for) engaging in a hypothetical debate about who the next leader of the Liberal Democrats should be.

A few articles have suggested that Danny Alexander is being a shrewd fellow and positioning himself - mainly by going to the papers with a change to Mansion Tax policy and showing a pretty blatant disregard for party process. Another, last night, was from my friend Mathew Hulbert, arguing Tim Farron's case and putting a pretty solid case forward for a leftist leader. Somebody else, I saw, was extolling the virtues of Steve Webb and of course nobody can ignore the recent activities of the Member for Taunton Deane.

The issue for me, is that this is a debate that doesn't need having. As with all of these things, if somebody was in a position to get rid of Clegg, they probably would have done it by now. The reality is, clearly they're not. Jeremy Browne's book release, which could have been seen as an assault on Clegg from the right was widely laughed off within the party - it's quite clear that his views are niche, even for the right-wing. In fact, rather than improving his position, it probably damaged Browne with most even-minded people in the party who don't like seeing things dragged across front pages.

There's been quite a kerfuffle this morning about this article - where Nick has said that he'd like to remain leader until 2020- and why? Quite clearly, when asked about the leadership, Nick isn't going to turn around and tell the exact truth - that if we're not in Government a leadership ballot will automatically be triggered, because the press would have a field day. On questions like that, Nick can only give one answer if he doesn't want to start another stupid media frenzy - that he's in it for the long haul.

So that's the position we're in. It won't make everybody happy, but it's true. Changing leader this close to an election would do one of two things - it would make us look weak and divided and would lose us votes, or it would make us look like political opportunists ditching the man who's led us through four years of Government - thus losing us votes. For me, changing leader before the General Election is a complete non-starter.

After that? Well, if an election is triggered, we'd be right to have these types of debates. If we enter another coalition? Then we have to react to the situation we're in. What isn't helpful. is having an open debate about who is likely to take over, and who is getting ready to nail down the coffin lid.

Like Nick, or loathe Nick, he's the leader that we have. I, for one, am proud that he's led our party into Government. I'm proud that he's made sure that people who are struggling now like my Mum did in the 90s won't have to pay any income tax. I'm proud that he's worked with colleagues to make sure that when Josh and I want to get married, we can do. I'm proud that he's tackled the free school meals issue and that he's confronting the scandal that many have ignored - that a child will wake up and go to sleep today in the UK and not have had a hot meal. I'm proud that he's seen the 0.7% pledge on International Aid come to fruition. I'm proud, that whatever the circumstances, he stood up for our position in the world and took on a politician (and *alleged* expenses cheat) that nobody else had the balls to.

Is he perfect? No. But, I promise you, right now, the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.  I'm proud that Nick Clegg is our leader, and so, until the situation changes, I'm going to do a Tammy Wynette and stand by my man.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Is this the worst mini-reshuffle ever?

So, Maria's gone. Good news. I'm not somebody who's signed a petition to get her sacked, or who defends her position - for me it's quite simple, if it's been proven that you've done something wrong, you probably need to go and not cause an almost week long scandal. For me though, Maria isn't the issue. 

For me, the issue is the new Maria Miller. Splitting her roles into two jobs, Sajid Javid will now pick up business from Culture, Media and Sport while Nicky Morgan MP will take his old job at the Treasury whilst also becoming Minister for Women and Equalities. 

Two points - 

1. Nicky Morgan voted AGAINST equal marriage. 

Yes, that's right, the woman who has just become the Minister for Equalities doesn't actually believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. She wrote at the time that she voted against the bill because she'd had very few emails in favour of it. *facepalm*

2. Morgan, as Minister for Women and Equalities WON'T be a full Cabinet member but will 'attend meetings when necessary'. I mean, for goodness sake. This is part of the problem! Surely, the whole point about having a Minister for Women is that they can watch over the work of Government and - I don't know - perhaps highlight when Govt decisions are adversely affecting women? Perhaps be a critical friend to those in power and offer a different perspective? 

This whole thing has been a total bloody nightmare from start to finish. First we had Miller-gate, now we have a Minister who doesn't believe in some pretty key tenets of her Job Description. 

Only one thing for it... *FML bomb* 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Live blog : Nick v Nigel

So, as they say, it ain't over 'til it's over - and it's over. My gut reaction is that whilst Nick had a few duff lines (the 'party of Putin' one didn't hit home as well as it might have and the 'billy-no-jobs' thing was a bit cringeworthy) he brought a great deal of passion and feeling to the debate this evening.

Nigel, on the other hand, tried to wallpaper over his own extremism, but didn't really succeed. His lines really were based on dog-whistle stuff - who talks about birth right unless you're a member of the EDL? He also moved forward in his position on the EU, he won't accept reform, he wants abolition. On this one, he's on the wrong side of business who may not love the EU but they need us to remain a part of it.

For me, Nick won and won quite clearly despite some lulls and trips. Most importantly, for those soft-cons and soft-labs who are worried by Farage's party's extremism, this will have hopefully made up some minds.

19.55 : When it comes to a referendum, there's also clarity from Nick on democracy about our position - unlike Labour, we won't secretly shepherd in a new treaty like Gordon Brown did, we'll give people a vote.

Then, on the question of how the EU will be in ten years time, Nick stakes his claim - still crucial to British jobs. Nigel then suggests that if the EU isn't abolished, very bad things will happen. Clear blue water again - Nigel suggests that EU might cause bloodshed, Liberal Democrats know that it's stopped it.

19.48 : Next up, the issue of how much legislation comes from the EU. Nick rightly references this famous data from the House of Commons Library. The BBC fact-checked this earlier, ultimately, nobody can quite work it out. The maximum it could be, however, was 50%.

Getting a bit testy as we're going on too - I wondered for a minute if Farage was about to flounce off the stage. Shame he didn't really.

19.38 : Nick is taking a very liberal line on reform of the EU here - pro EU doesn't mean anti-reform. Rightly pointing out that negotiating reform in the EU is crucial, and that it isn't going to happen if nobody is around to do it.

Nigel really does need to be careful on these issues - suggesting that every problem is going to be solved by leaving the EU.

What I do like about this, is that there's a lot of clear blue water between the two. Nick standing up for reform of the EU, Nigel suggesting that fracking will see us through if we leave - you can't get more different than that.

19.25 : On immigration, Farage takes an interesting line. Moves it away from the suggestion that he's racist and toward an issue of 'planning'. Nick comes back to him with a UKIP leaflet depicting Native Americans, brilliantly suggesting that Nigel is a racist whipping people up into a frenzy based on fear.

Another interesting (and factually correct) - vast majority of social housing goes to people born here. I'm particularly happy about this, as UKIP actively trade on the idea that immigrants move here and get 'given' a council house.

Nigel then starts with his 'fear' that there will be mass migration from 'the mediterranean' over the next few years. Clearly he's abandoned his argument about Bulgaria and Romania after very few of them actually turned up!

19.13 : On the sticky question of Crimea, Nigel suggests that he doesn't want to be part of the 'dangerous expansionist' EU, Nick, much more passionately, takes him down on his recent comments on Putin.

Nick absolutely fantastic on this issue, talks of the real horror of Syria and highlights Nigel's horrific comments about how well Vladimir Putin has 'played it'.

19.06 : So, openers set the scene pretty well - Nigel still using his line about the majority of laws being made by the EU. Been proven not to be true, but there we are. Nick sticking with a similar line - jobs jobs jobs, much more positive.

Interestingly, the language used by both debaters is very different. Nigel using 'birth-right', Nick talking about Britain standing tall in the world. Nick's much more positive.

18.40 : So, we're almost there. Nick v Nigel : the rematch is go at 7pm on BBC2. Here's a sampling of the reception this second debate is getting in the press.

The BBC are talking up the EU 'ding-dong' between Nick and Nigel with particular focus on the Crimea comments from last week's LBC debate. 

'Last week's debate saw Mr Farage and Mr Clegg clash over the issue of immigration and the possible effect on the UK economy of leaving the EU.
Mr Clegg said: "We are better off in Europe - richer, stronger, safer - and that's why I will fight to keep us in, for the sake of jobs, for the sake of our clout in the world, for the sake of Britain."
But Mr Farage replied: "This debate is between a tired status quo defending a crumbling EU that frankly isn't working any more, and a fresh approach that says let's be friendly with Europe, let's trade with Europe, but let's not be governed by their institutions." '
Over at The Guardian I'm in competition with Andrew Sparrow's live blog.
And at The Telegrapgh? Well, as has made headlines throughout today, they're going on news that Nigel Farage is likely to make a 'personal attack' on Nick Clegg's family. So far, so grim.
"The Ukip leader will also draw attention to Mr Clegg’s family background. Mr Clegg’s wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, is Spanish and a partner specialising in European trade law at a City law firm.
“The Clegg family are very closely linked to the European project and to big corporate business and so in a sense the debate tonight becomes a clash of cultures,” he said. “I represent the mercantile, trading, entrepreneurial end of society and he represents big banks, big government and big business.”
Anyway, so that's a round-up. I'll be tweeting along too, come and join me, I'm @SamPhripp