Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Honeymoon over. On with married life.

Of course it was foolish of Vince to talk about Murdoch to people he didn't know, but generally the Telegraph's exposures will have served the cause of grown-up politics. Tim Farron handled it beautifully on the Today programme this morning. It's about time Nick Clegg stopped pretending that the coalition is a love match. We want people to know that the Liberal Democrats are different from the Conservatives and to understand that a compromise is what it says, not our heart's desire to be defended to death. The honeymoon is over. Let's get on with married life (two beds, of course).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Polar bears in Pimlico

Four days in London. Too much to eat and drink. Cold and sometimes damp. More languages heard than in four years in Chard. Marvellous, but gout continues. Criticism and mistrust of Liberal Democrats in all quarters. Do our great leaders understand the damage they have done ? The Independent describes Danny Alexander as an intellectual !!!!! On Monday night he won the coveted David Austick Memorial Tea Trolley award which is given annually to the person who has had greatness thrust upon them for no obvious merit of their own.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are they related ?

I am enjoying the complete seven series of Rumpole on DVD (Guardian offer) and cannot help noticing the extraordinary resemblance between Claude Erskine-Brown and Sandy Walkington. I wonder if perhaps they are related. Perhaps we should be told.

Talk to your party first, Vince !

I have written to a number of Lib Dem MPs who voted for the rise in tuition fees, along these lines:

"I am disappointed that you didn’t feel able to vote against the rise in tuition fees. Surely the whips must have told the front bench the strength of opinion in the parliamentary party ? I’m guessing – and Vince’s comments on the Today Programme this morning confirm it – that the government developed this policy and THEN tried to sell it to the Lib Dem MPs. I am convinced that Lib Dem ministers need to discuss matters more carefully with their parliamentary colleagues BEFORE negotiating and announcing policies agreed with their Conservative colleagues in government.

I think the tuition fees policy is wrong and some of the arguments in its favour spurious but above all the mishandling of the issue has done damage to the party from which we will never entirely recover. No doubt we will rise above our current 8% but I believe that MPs who think it will all be forgotten by the time of the next election are whistling in the dark. Given the Labour Party’s current disarray, we have handed them an unnecessary victory as a reward for their opportunistic hypocrisy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

"I believe it's time for promises to be kept" - Nick Clegg

It may or may not have been foolish for any MP to sign the pledge on tuition fees. Most did it fully believing in it. Our party had debated the issue and refused to downgrade our opposition to tuition fees to a mere "aspiration".

I am not so sure about the motives of at least two of our coalition negotiators, David Laws and Danny Alexander. David never liked the pledge and signed it very reluctantly. Danny Alexander had already concluded in March that we would not be able to honour the pledge if entering a coalition. Yet both campaigned in the election on the strength of the pledge. The coalition agreement recognised the difficulty by allowing for abstention, but then Vince Cable negotiated a deal which his colleagues could not accept. It's not the first time Vince has developed policy without much regard for his colleagues.

What I don't understand or accept is the argument that Shirley Williams made on WATO this lunchtime which is that we cannot afford to continue state funding of universities at the current level. Replacing this funding by loans and grants doesn't save a penny in the short to medium term. In the long run it may turn out expensive too not only for the graduates but for the government if the default rate is high or many graduates finds themselves unemployed or on low incomes.

So raising tuition fees will not save money in the short term in which the government insists on cutting the deficit. One can only conclude that the policy is for the long term, which means that Vince and those who support his policy have abandoned the party's stated policy, still on the party's website: "Liberal Democrats believe university education should be free and everyone who has the ability should be able to go to university and not be put off by the cost.". What are the chances that when the government sells off the banks, the proceeds will be used to abolish tuition fees or will they simply be applied to offering tax cuts at the next election ?

Finally, let's remember Nick Clegg's pitch on new politics at the General Election. Here's what he said in a PPB as he walked along a street strewn with broken promises by Labour and the Conservatives:

"I believe it's time for promises to be kept. We can say goodbye to broken promises"

Which minister is that then ?

Grauniad has odd choice of picture to illustrate rebellion by Lib Dem MPs.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Blast from the past: 1974 election

Whilst searching for something else I came across this great clip from coverage of the 1974 General Election. Anyone recognise who this is ? If you don't, check the video.

Tuition fees and Labour hypocrisy

I remain as vehemently opposed to tuition fees as ever but I am sick to death of Labour hypocrisy over the subject. (Here's an example from their demo outside our conference in Plymouth). We all know that if there were a Labour government today they would be increasing tuition fees as recommended by the Browne Report which they commissioned. Here's their duplicitous record.

July 1997
Education Secretary David Blunkett announces the introduction of means-tested tuition fees (to begin in September 1998). The student grant of £1,710 is abolished to be replaced by income-contingent student loans.

June 7 2001
Labour is re-elected with a manifesto pledge stating that it "will not introduce top-up fees and has legislated against them"

January 22 2003
Less than two years after pledging not to introduce top-up fees, Labour (Charles Clarke this time) publishes a white paper setting out proposals allowing universities to set their own tuition fees up to a cap of £3,000 a year.

Let's not forget the Conservatives.
May 12 2003
Conservative party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, pledges that all university tuition fees would be abolished under a future Conservative government, condemning tuition fees as "a tax on learning".

I am not for a moment saying that Labour and Conservative behaviour excuses broken pledges by Liberals, but all those demonstrating now should think twice before blaming everything on us. When I pointed this out to the girl with the megaphone in Plymouth (see video) and asked who she would vote for, she replied, "I think I'll just hang myself."

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Whatever you do, don't abstain !

I should, of course, publish a long reply to Ed's well-informed remarks on tuition fees. For the moment, I content myself with saying that his view of higher education - and it's a common one today - is a commercial one in which education is regarded as a commodity and the student as a consumer. Many people in government share this view. It may explain why another feature of the settlement is a massive reduction in state support for arts degrees.

I don't share this view. Education, including higher education, remains for me not only a private good, but a public good because it is the silver bullet which makes a society happier and healthier and not merely wealthier. As the Liberal Democrat education policy Equity and Excellence says, "Liberal Democrats believe in freedom. A free society is one in which no person is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".

You can defend the university settlement as Nick Clegg does in today's Independent on Sunday and vote in favour of it.

You can stick to the oft and widely repeated pledges to the voters, of which this is but one sample: "Liberal Democrats believe tuition fees are wrong", an extract from "Why vote Liberal Democrat" edited by Danny Alexander and published on 1st March 2010 two weeks before he wrote in a confidential memo " On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches." and two months before he campaigned on a promise TO VOTE AGAINST ANY INCREASE IN FEES. This particular memo shows not only a willingness to deceive the voters but an appalling lack of political judgement concerning other parties' positions and the public reaction.

This isn't a question of a manifesto commitment which we can't fulfil because "we didn't win the election". This isn't about failing to do something because we can't. It's doing something we promised not to.

So I conclude: VOTE AGAINST. But above all, don't abstain. Abstention is a ridiculous option. It shows how the Westminster bubble focuses its occupants inwards and obscures the real world through a veneer of parliamentary procedure. Abstention would annoy the Tories but simultaneously do nothing to assuage the tide of hostile public opinion. It would confirm many people’s prejudices about Liberal Democrats.

Ustinov Films answer

The answer to the film quiz was "The Way Ahead" also featuring David Niven, Stanley Holloway, William Hartnell and many others. I suppose nowadays it would have been titled "Going Forward". The other film in which Ustinov was a North African innkeeper was "Hotel Sahara".

Congratulations to John Leston who got it first and to Hoonaloon who half got it later.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Film Quiz - The Beveridge Report

In this film, British soldiers stationed in North Africa are not welcomed by the innkeeper(Peter Ustinov} and they wonder why.

"What's up with him ?"
"He hasn't read the Beveridge Report".
"Nor have I"

What's the name of the film ?

Bonus question: In which other film does Ustinov play a North African innkeeper ?

Is God determined to stop a deal in CancĂșn ?

George Monbiot reminds us that weather is NOT climate. Did you know that 2010 is likely to be one of the three warmest years on record ?

(the map is from NASA)