Monday, December 31, 2007

Clegg's New Year Message

I just got in from work to read the email version of Nick Clegg's New Year Message. He has also recorded it as a YouTube video:

Personally, I was genuinely enthused by it, and it's not often I can say that about a Lib Dem email shot. I think this message contains the beginnings of a really strong narrative for Clegg to hang our policies off: what he terms "social mobility".
I believe no-one should be condemned by the circumstances of their birth. And I am certain that is what the British people believe, too. We are a nation with a strong sense of fair play, and natural justice.

The challenge for our party is to persuade those people that their home is with the Liberal Democrats. We will do it by putting social mobility – a fair deal for every family – at the heart of our message.

Sprouting from this sturdy trunk are four key issues which he clearly intends to try and make some running on in the new year. Two of them are not surprising, they are major planks of existing policy and are familiar territory for us, although weaving them into his "social mobility/families" may be interesting to watch. They are:

1. Opposition to ID cards.
2. The Pupil Premium / Levelling the playing field for poor families in general.

One of them is clearly a piece of David Cameron's political territory which Nick wants for himself:

3. Quality of Life / Work-Life Balance

I see no reason why he shouldn't take it relatively easily, since the Tory quality of life policy review's suggestions were so roundly ignored.

The last one, and the most specifically trumpeted here, is an interesting one:

4. "We will campaign for sensible restrictions on advertising aimed at toddlers."

Now, as a regular reader of Adbusters, I need little persuading that campaigning to take back some of our more cherished public spaces from advertisers is a good thing, so I don't have too much concern about this as a bit of policy, but I think it is interesting as a sign of Clegg's thinking, since it is so specific an issue and so early in Clegg's leadership. I don't know what to make of it, really. I hope it will go down well, though. Advertising is quite a big issue for the anticorporate left, and for young people in general, and it's a sufficiently unusual political issue that it might just capture the attention of people who don't usually pay much heed to the usual spats on tax, education, health, foreign policy and so on. If the campaign on this can find something genuinely interesting to say, we may well win some new following. Which can't be bad.

I will finish on a prediction: Like last time there was a kerfuffle over kids TV advertising, the commercial broadcasters will likely predict the end of kids' TV in the commercial sector. I didn't believe them then, and I wouldn't believe them now. Anyway, to be honest, it's wouldn't be a terrible thing for the BBC to end up producing the bulk of kids telly. They do it very well, and I think it's more obviously justifiable as a public service than much of their programming. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the commercial sector reports it. Will ITN's reporting be notably chillier than the BBCs? Will either of them bother to report this at all?

Time will tell...

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Lovely Surprise

Having noted the demolition notice hanging over Lawrence Miles's Beasthouse for the last few months, I am pleased to see he has apparently thought better of this decision. Hurrah! And just in time for Christmas, too. Although he has broken his silence with a somewhat erratically numbered Advent Calendar feature. Either that, or he is doing his irritating deleting posts thing.

Anyway, that's all from me today, since I am on a 9am shift tomorrow (it's obscene, dammit! Don't they know I'm a Student?!).

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Another day, another article in the Guardian. This time it's Michael Cockerell, who has written that:
Tory electoral prospects could now be in the hands of the Lib Dem's new Davealike leader.
Clearly the MSM have already chosen their preferred albatross to hang around our neck, and it is that our new leader is a clone of Dave Cameron. This, it seems, on the back of the following startling simmilarities:

1. Young
2. Not been MPs for very long (so... pretty much the "young" point again)
3. ...... dark hair?

Well, never mind. We've had worse.

What amuses me more about this whole thing is the idea that David Cameron clearly thinks it's such a great tactic to play this up, by making noises about a "progressive alliance", as if this is going to really sabotage us but do him no harm at all. From where I'm sitting, the reverse is true: Dave Cameron's strategy has, as Cockerell points out, been to try and move onto our ground.

The new Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has been widely characterised as a Cameron clone, but much less widely noticed is that Cameron's strategy has been quite specifically to target Lib Dem voters.

In a speech just a fortnight after becoming leader, Cameron dubbed himself "a liberal Conservative": his two core values, "trusting people and sharing responsibility", were those of the Lib Dems. And he said that in most of the seats the Tories needed to win to topple Labour, the size of the Lib Dem vote was larger than the Labour majority. So the answer was staggeringly simple: "It is time for Liberal Democrat voters, councillors and MPs to come and join the Conservative party."

The co-author of Cameron's strategy is his reclusive media guru, Steve Hilton. An ex-Saatchi man, Hilton is an expert in political marketing, commercial rebranding and so-called consumer segmentation. And he has put his knowledge to work for Cameron.

One top Tory in a position to know explained the Hilton strategy: "Since our high point in 1992 we have lost over 5 million voters, as well as over 150 seats. Meanwhile the Lib Dems' share of the vote has steadily risen and they have more than trebled their seats - almost all at our expense. Dave's prime aim is win back those 5 million lost voters."


And last weekend the Tory leader reinforced the message he had first sent to the Lib Dems two years ago, in a subtly different form. Instead of calling for Lib Dems to defect, he offered to join forces, to create "a new progressive alliance" to oust Gordon Brown.

So surely the response to overtures from Dave to the electorate to try and paint himself as "basically a pretty liberal kinda guy" is to turn round and ask why, if he thinks that what the country wants is basically a Lib Dem-alike party, should people vote for him and not us. That is, if people want someone who looks a bit like Cameron or Clegg and are attracted by how many times we can use the word "liberal", then why should they choose the one dragging a half-unreconstructed Thatcherite party behind him? Instead of simply replying that the offer is mischievous and that Dave lives in "cloud-cuckoo land", as Vince has, why can't we instead respond with something like:

"If David Cameron wants to join a liberal, progressive movement for the future of this country, then why doesn't he just join the party he has so flatteringly sought to emulate for the last two years? Of course, he would have to accept a few basic liberal principles..." Cue list of points on which we hold the undeniably progressive higher ground.

Of course, I hope Nick has his own ideas for dealing with Cameron, as has been suggested at his meeting with the assembled Lib Dem blogging royalty yesterday. As Alix reported it:
Don’t worry [dark expression]. He’ll be dealt with.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Clegg Wins: Comment Roundup

Well now. I was sat in a cafe eating my lunch today, when I received a text message from Lord Rennard. Apparently, Nick Clegg won the leadership race (hurrah!). By 511 votes (gosh!).

I had to wait till later, when I got home, to discover that our beloved MSM has spun itself on a dime and is now peddling the line that we are a split party. Yes, the same people who until 2.30 today had been telling us that you couldn't slip a cigarette paper between the two candidates and that consequently the race was boring, are now telling us that the two candidates coming in so close represents some kind of significant split down the middle of the party. The people who complained that the stifling of democracy in the Labour party represented by Gordon's coronation are telling us that the fact that two very credible leaders had to compete to lead our party is a bad thing.

Meanwhile Paxman assaults Clegg with a collection of snidey comments that would sound ludicrous put to any other political leader ("Gordon Brown, tell us 10 interesting things about yourself, go on!") and silly false dichotomies (you can be 100% passive or 100% didactic in talking to people about policy, there is not - contrary to the misapprehensions of many in politics - any middle ground where you debate and persuade people).

So has anything particularly interesting been said today? Here, since I can't count on the MSM, are a few interesting things that have been said online:


The lovely Alix has come up with one good theme of Nick Clegg's that we can all pick up and run with today:
I am continually struck by the energy, the intelligence and the conviction with which we shoot down trolls on Lib Dem Voice. But at least visiting trolls are engaging with us (except for the stupid ones, obviously, but they can just bugger off). There are people out there, probably not terribly committed politically, who are getting away with far worse calumnies every day than anything any activist opponent would consider realistic ... doesn’t it sicken you to your by-definition decent soul, the number of comment threads that turn into a stream of abuse against the Lib Dems for lack of anyone to put up the opposite case? We just haven’t got the numbers out there in the political online mainstream, and we need them. We need us. If you see what I mean. If ever there was a concrete example of what the Cleggster is talking about when he says we must put an end to introspection, this is it.
I for one would like to echo this call. If we want to use the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator to talk to the party, fine. But if people are doing this to talk to the great unhosed, then you are much better off taking on some of the incredibly sloppy but widely read arguments that you get put forward in places like CiF. Alix posted one example of a thread where we were being discussed (this one), but I suspect that since then, a possibly better example has arrived.

So, here it is folks. The great leader has spoken of our need to speak to the unconverted. Hold your heads up high and go and convert them!


Charlotte Gore remarked on Clegg's interesting sugestion of regular town hall meetings, which I hadn't really picked up on until that point (I didn't see the speeches at the time). I think it's a great idea, but I would simply add that, should they play this right, there's no reason why the MSM might not take an interest in this. After all, if they can make these meetings their own Question Time style question and answer discussions, and bring along not just Nick Clegg but a few other senior Lib Dem shadow cabinet stars, they could well be interesting. All the more so if they pick places most heavily affected by issues of the day, and take along the relevant shadow minister. It would make an interesting statement to the viewing public if the footage of Lib Dem soundbites they saw on the news was less often from the house of commons, and more often from public meetings. We don't have to rely on the news media to turn up to these things; surely we can record them ourselves and supply them with interesting broadcast quality footage. Just a thought.


Duncan Borrowman was just as annoyed as I was at the treatment Paxman gave us on Newsnight tonight.


Coffee House blog has a post by James Forsyth daydreaming about the far future, and trying to paint Huhne as the kind of git who would split his party just to lead it. Weird.

... and that's it, more or less. Today, much as people have rushed to comment on this result, we don't know an awful lot. I will be more interested to see what happens over the next few days, and what Nick does to keep hold of the news agenda for a little longer. After all, as I pointed out when Ming resigned, when we do have a legitimate claim to the news agenda (ie. when the MSM's bias against us would be painfully obvious even to the uninitiated if they let their usual standards apply), we do ourselves no favours by hurrying.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Shropshire MPs make me so proud. Not, this time, my own (Saudi-loving) MP Daniel Kawczynski, but Mark Pritchard, MP for neighbouring constituency The Wrekin. This week, he published a barking press release with attached debate in Westminster Hall. Apparently, Christianity is under threat in the UK. Now, I know every year, Fox News and the Daily Mail share a common cause in uncovering the "War on Christmas" in their respective countries, but it is a sad development for one of our legislators to take up this perennial bonanza of bollocks, and try to dress it up in more plausible terms.

Still, to turn to the kernel of substance in what he says, he argued that:
It is important for the Government and public agencies to recognise, acknowledge, and be reminded of the roots of Christianity in this nation


A recent survey in The Sunday Telegraph revealed that fewer and fewer schools are staging traditional Christmas nativity plays, supposedly through fear of offending people of other faiths and those with no faith.
The last bit is simply his assertion, and a straw man. The point is not offence, it is that, if schools perform nativity plays, particularly in areas where most of their pupils are not from Christian backgrounds, then there is a good argument that they also ought to go out of their way to celebrate equally important holidays of other religions. If they don't want to do this, then why should they do it for Christians? And would atheists be allowed to invent their own "Holy Days" to celebrate, perhaps Hume's birthday, or the anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species? To be inconsistent on this matter, in state schools, is to imply an endorsement of Christianity by the state.

But then, why would we be surprised to find that? We have plenty of explicit evidence for it already. For instance, the legal requirements for daily collective worship in schools (which is so obviously stupid that three quarters of schools flout the law in this regard). Just take a look at the "Religion and Education" section of the Wikipedia article "Religion in the United Kingdom":

Religion is still heavily involved in education in the UK. 7,000 (30%) of the 24,000 state funded schools in the UK are faith schools. The vast majority, 6,955 (99%), are Christian. 6,400 (92%) of these are primary schools. These Christian state funded schools are mainly either of Church Of England or Roman Catholic denomination. There are also 36 Jewish, seven Muslim and two Sikh faith schools. Faith schools follow the same national curriculum as state schools with the added ethos of the host religion. In Scotland, the majority of schools are non-denominational, but by legislation separate Roman Catholic schools, with an element of control by the Roman Catholic Church, are provided by the state system. Northern Ireland has a highly segregated education system, with 95% of pupils attending either a maintained (Catholic) school or a controlled school (mostly Protestant). However, controlled schools are open to children of all faiths and none, mirroring the stance taken by many Church Of England schools.

Until 1944 there was no requirement for state schools in England and Wales to provide religious education or worship, although most did so. The Education Act 1944 introduced a requirement for a daily act of collective worship and for religious education but did not define what was allowable under these terms. The act contained provisions to allow parents to withdraw their children from these activities and for teachers to refuse to participate. The Education Reform Act 1988 introduced a further requirement that the majority of collective worship be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". In recent years schools have increasingly failed to comply with the collective worship rules - in 2004 David Bell, the Chief Inspector of Schools said that "at present more than three-quarters of schools fail to meet this requirement." Religious studies is still an obligatory subject in the curriculum, but tends to aim at providing an understanding of the main faiths of the world than at instilling a strictly Christian viewpoint.

Given such a favourable climate toward not just religion generally but specifically Christianity in law (and remember, Christianity is the only religion specifically protected from blasphemy by law, as Mr. Boyce pointed out on Question Time tonight), how can any sidelining of Christianity be seen as anything other than a failure of Christians to make enough noise on behalf of their religion?

Personally, I think that the legislation this country has passed is far too deferential to religion. No special protection for religions or religious people should be required; free speech laws and the laws governing our interactions in general should be quite enough. No state money should be allowed to go toward any overtly religious event or institution, unless they are performing some public function (like adoption agencies). Faith schools should certainly not be state funded. I realise that's a marginal view in this country - funnily enough, I suspect it would be considered less so in the USA, normally a country where we consider religion to be such a massive thing.

Separation of church and state is a big issue, and one that the UK really hasn't done enough on. If eejits like Pritchard want to start a fight on this subject, fine. But they shouldn't expect the largely secular public to come to the conclusion that, since public money goes to other religions, we need to bed Christianity down in our national life once more. The answer I think we are much more likely to reach, and the one which is the right answer, is that the state has no business associating itself with any particular faith. This is not "Christianophobia", any more than a refusal to make special arrangements for school kids to go on the Hajj is Islamophobia. Nobody is being prevented from practicing their religion. Clear thinking progressives must be confident and proactive in rejecting calls, from all religions, not just Christianity, for special treatment by the state.

The "I'm Back" Roundup of the last few weeks

Having now returned from uni for Christmas, I thought I probably ought to get posting again. There's no great reason why I couldn't blog whilst at uni, but the motivation was a long time coming during the leadership bickering going on for the last few weeks, so I didn't.

Anyway, here are my thoughts for the last few weeks, condensed into a kind of roundup post:

* Free speech. The Oxford Union thing brought out for me the amazing number of people I had idle conversations with who have swallowed the complete doublethink that is the argument that there are "limits to free speech", or that the right to free speech can be divorced from allowing people platforms (is the right to free speech effectively just the right to talk to yourself? No? Then people with universally despised views actually will need special provision of platforms, surely?). Also, a side note about the "Oxbridge Union is a prestigious platform" argument: That's only so if you proclaim it to be so. Personally, as someone who attends a fair few debates at the Cambridge Union and sees the pitiful nature of many speeches, I accord very little respect to someone on the grounds of having spoken there. I imagine it is probably the same in Oxford.

* Leadership Election. Yes, I have voted. Yes, I voted for Nick. Yes, for the same reasons as I outlined at the start of the contest. Having said that, I was challenged constantly by Chris Huhne, who has run a very competitive campaign, not helped by the fact that Nick has seemed rather unimaginative in his, content to rest on his laurels as frontrunner. Ultimately, though, if we don't elect Nick now, we will next time, whenever it comes, which would always leave Huhne feeling like a stopgap. We can't do that. A third party must always look as if it's boldly heading upwards.

* Vince. Well done, sir!

* This Week. Is it me, or does Michael Portillo squeeze ever further down to Diane Abbot's end of the sofa each week. He now has a big gap to the other side of him. Budging up to make room for a Lib Dem, perhaps?!

* I was going to add something about the Christianophobia debate this week, but that went a bit long, so it will be a separate post.

And that's all I can remember about the last few weeks. If anyone has been on the edge of their seats to know what I think about any other issues, then do let me know, and I will add updates!