Finding an antidote for Europhobia

When doing away with our yearly ritual of moving the clocks forward and back is condemned because a change would mean we’d be using “German” time I think we know we’re in trouble. When Conservative MPs like Julian Lewis feel able to go on record to criticise senior civil servants representing the UK in Europe for being too integrationist while others, such as Douglas Carswell, do so indirectly, it is clear that the forces of Euroscepticism are emboldened. Apparently the UK is sending people to Europe who are too positive about the whole European project. They are not sufficiently unyielding in their pursuit of the repatriation of powers.

Nigel Farage’s performance on BBC Question Time last week was typically monomaniacal. The institutions of Europe were portrayed as the very root of all evil. But you get the sense that, rather than being written off as a cartoon zealot put in the wingnut chair to provide some entertainment, his views increasingly resonate with at least some sections of the voting public. The New Statesman blog yesterday suggested that the Conservatives have more to fear from UKIP than from the Liberal Democrats, given the sentiment in the country. That doesn’t strike me as entirely implausible.

It would appear that the Eurosceptics are making all the running on Europe at the moment. Yet, it is not really helpful to talk in terms of Euroscepticism. Read more of this post

Progressive but not centre-left? Best not to …

On Sunday we had an interesting juxtaposition.

The Observer declared that Ed Miliband ‘opens the door to future co-operation with the Liberal Democrats’, contrasting Tory policies with ‘progressive ones’ and inviting Liberal Democrats to join him on the side of progress. This resonates with his previous attempt to appeal to the putative ‘progressive majority’ as the banner under which left-leaning Lib Dems might align with Labour to dislodge the Tories.

While I was reading this Observer piece Nick Clegg was interviewed on Andrew Marr’s show. Lib Dem commentators have already noted that Nick’s performance contained some promising signs of differentiation from the Tories, although some of his comments on health reform were perhaps not quite what some would have hoped for (as noted, for example, on Caron’s Musings here) . Read more of this post

Is Cameron’s missing majority really the root of his problem?

Over at the Telegraph today Benedict Brogan posted an interesting piece under the title David Cameron isn’t a winner – and that’s where his problems begin. The thrust of his argument is clear from the title: Cameron’s failure to secure any sort of majority last May fundamentally weakens his position. Cameron is aware of this, Brogan argues, and that awareness infuses the whole business of government.

On closer inspection the rest of the piece turns out to be a rather loose collection of observations regarding things that are going wrong or not working very well. Or, as Brogan styles it, ‘the incidences of chaos are multiplying’. Anyone keeping even half an eye on the way policy is developing would agree that incidents that could appropriately be described as chaotic are not hard to find. But has Cameron’s lack of a majority got anything to do with it? Read more of this post

Liberal Democrat alternative realities

Quite a few blog posts have now appeared offering a perspective on the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference. Some significant positive developments occurred. The amendments to the conference motion on NHS reform have attracted most attention. The support for the emergency motion on banking reform was equally emphatic. They both represent important interventions by the Social Liberal Form. Indeed, the growing influence of the SLF in the party was noted by Mark Pack over at Liberal Democrat Voice. Both motions were passed almost unanimously; Conference was equally united on the questions of political independence and electoral strategy; on reasserting the importance of the mobility components of the DLA and of legal aid for access to justice. These were clear statements of intent. Conference saw itself as sending a signal that Coalition hadn’t turned it into “forelock touching automatons” – to borrow Andrew George’s memorable phrase. The atmosphere in the hall was generally and genuinely positive. Of course, the question of what happens next – how to turn policy positions into reality in the context of Coalition, and whether the leadership is particularly inclined to so do – was not really addressed.

Conference was repeatedly regaled with more or less extensive lists of Liberal Democrat policies that have already been implemented by the Coalition government. Many went away from Sheffield relatively happy.

It feels a little churlish to register concerns. But I’m going to anyway. Read more of this post

Clegg and Co – whose side are they on?

These are troubling times, for many reasons. If you’re interested in the politics of the Liberal Democrats then you’re driven to ask precisely what’s going on. For those who considered they were joining a tolerant and federal party of the centre–left, the omens seem to get worse by the day.

Yesterday we had a letter in The Times by leading Liberal Democrats in local government (reported here). The argument was utterly reasonable. They were not disputing the need for cuts. They were not even pressing all that hard on the point that the cuts cannot, pace Mr Pickles, be made through efficiency gain but will require reductions in frontline services. The main point was that the cuts being imposed on local government – unlike those being made in Whitehall – are being frontloaded. As a consequence they cannot be dealt with by natural wastage or by considered restructuring. Rather they have to be rushed and dealt with by compulsory redundancy, which will incur considerable additional costs. This is going lead to irrevocable – but avoidable – damage. So it was a public request for equitable treatment. Not an unreasonable point, one might have thought. Read more of this post

Clegg’s curate’s egg of a speech

We all know about the cuts. And the claims that getting the public finances in order will act as a spur to a revival of private sector economic activity. We’re all – quite possibly including the Government – less clear on exactly how that revival is supposed to occur. We are promised a budget for growth in a few weeks time. But the speech on the economy that Nick Clegg delivered last week was eagerly awaited. Perhaps it would give some early signs of how precisely the Coalition is expecting current policy to deliver this bright new private sector-led dawn.

The speech has not been universally welcomed. David Blanchflower over at the New Statesman dismissed it as “empty waffle”. That’s harsh. But is it fair? One of the challenges is knowing quite how to read what was said. Cynics might say the challenge is knowing quite what, in what was said, to believe. Read more of this post

The poverty of Nick Clegg’s “new” progressives

Nick Clegg’s Hugo Young speech last night is already generating plenty of comment in the old and new media. It was structured around a distinction between “old” and “new” progressives which is highly contestable. The characterisation of “old” progressives was not even a gross simplification. It was a caricature which, as Next Left has pointed out, is not readily anchored in any identifiable thinkers or contemporary policy position. Clegg’s view of old progressives – which would appear to encompass quite a chunk of his own party – is that they have both a simplistic and a static view of the world. To say that it was a straw man, or straw person, would be to do a disservice to cereal-based hominids.

On the other hand, “new” progressive policy would appear to encompass everything that Clegg and his new friend Dave are planning to do. Read more of this post