The odd thing about it is the design of website. It looks like something an anarchist would do.
Sunday, 31 May 2009
The newspapers are rife with speculation this weekend over what the Prime Minister is going to do after 4 June.
According to the Times he will reshuffle the Cabinet on Friday. This would be a smart move. It would mean he isn't waiting for the European election results, which come out on Sunday in the UK. If he waits for the results and they are bad, he increases the chances that he will be challenged for the leadership of the Labour party.
Here are some of his options for that reshuffle. They are based on the assumption that Brown must do something dramatic.
- Ed Balls becomes Chancellor - Isabel Oakeshott in the Times says Brown is seriously considering this
- Invite the Lib Dems into government - this is the Telegraph's view. This would send out three messages: we are a government of consensus, we need a constitutional fix and 'it's the economy stupid', so let's get Vince Cable in
- Invite the Lib Dems and Tories into government - no one has suggested a national government but it could have its attractions for all of the reasons the Lib Dems might be asked to join the Cabinet
- A bold reshuffle outside the Brownite tent: Mandelson to the Foreign Office, David Miliband becomes Chancellor, Alan Johnson takes on BERR (postman saves Royal Mail), Ed Balls goes to health, Geoff Hoon replaces Jacqui Smith and Ed Miliband moves to education
Brown and his advisers will be considering what needs to be done to address the voter's anger over the expenses scandal. That means a reshuffle won't be enough, even if he could form a national government.
Brown will need to demonstrate his boldness through deeds as well as words.
Most of the above options suggest a de facto new administration.
To help prove this new administration is serious about parliamentary reform, Brown would need to offer a clear timetable to achieve it.
With a timetable in place, the last part of the jigsaw could be to announce a date for the general election. This would be an acknowledgement of the mood in the country.
Brown could go for October 2009 or argue that the Government needs time to put things right but commit to a specific date in 2010.
This might not be enough to get the Labour government re-elected but it could begin to repair the damage to our political system.
Monday, 25 May 2009
In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. argues that Obama is attempting to build a liberal consensus that includes everyone bar the far right.
In the Telegraph, Simon Heffer takes a very different view. Heffer believes that Obama is still in campaign mode, is incapable of making decisions and will not win a second term.
It might be obvious but for the record, Dionne is pro Obama and Heffer is anti.
Heffer believes Obama is flawed and at the end of his piece says that Obama must start confronting difficult decisions. This is odd from a small state conservative. Surely Heffer should be pleased that Obama is incapable of driving policy through as presumably he disapproves of most of what Obama would like to do?
Dionne believes that the characteristics Heffer identifies are not flaws but part of a coherent strategy to create a new establishment.
He says: "The establishment Obama is trying to build would make the country better - more equal, more just and more conscious of the government's constitutional obligations. The far right is being isolated, and Republicans are simply lost."
As is always the way, there is truth in both views. I suspect Dionne is right about what Obama wants to do. Heffer could be right about why it won't happen.
Whether one is pro or anti the US President or believes he will succeed or fail, both articles make for fascinating reading.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
Discussing when the next general election is going to be is one of the favourite hobbies of political anoraks.
Last year, and early this year, I was speculating that it could be called in 2009. By late March, I had rejoined the consensus and accepted that, all things being equal, it is more likely to be in 2010.
But something has always troubled me about Gordon Brown waiting until the last moment to go to the country.
It would be supremely ironic, if he calls an election in October 2009. If he does, it will be dubbed the election that should have happened last year.
It could even be given a snappier title: right month, wrong year.
By June we will have the results of the local and European elections. It is highly likely more MPs, from all parties, will have announced they are standing down at the next election.
David Cameron will continue to make his call for a natiowide poll.
As MPs are deselected, there will also be calls for by-elections due to the expenses scandal.
While Brown won't want to be seen to have given in to Cameron, he could call an election and ask the voters for a mandate for reform.
Then there is the economic crisis. Today on the Politics Show Alastair Darling said that tough decisions will have to be made after the next election. If a mandate is needed for tough decisions, why not ask for it sooner rather than later?
This was the narrative I expected Labour to use if they went this year.
Nothing is definite in life, even less so in politics. I am not advising people place money on it but it is something that needs to be considered.
Only time will tell...
One of the most fascinating developments to have come out of the MPs' expenses soap opera is that Parliament is challenging itself.
It began with the usual suspects, Lib Dem MPs and maverick parliamentarians talking in almost hushed tones about reform. At some point there was a tipping point: David Miliband and Peter Hain have both raised it, there was a discussion during a Cabinet meeting and so on.
Before constitutional obsessive's get too excited, it is unlikely that we will see huge change. What we might happen is that the legislature's ability to check the executive is strengthened. This in turn could lead to more independently minded MPs, although not necessarily independents, who are no longer lobby fodder.
More active members of the House, so the argument goes, leads to more engagement with constituents and ultimately better behaviour because our MPs then have something to lose.
On the fringes of this debate are the ideas of Douglas Carswell. He believes we should move to 'open source' politics with primaries to select candidates.
Then there is the general election. David Cameron has so far had a very good MPs' expenses war: his narrative has been consistent and he has placed himself firmly on the side of the public. His call for a general election is a clever tactic. There has to be a general election within the year, so why not call for one now?
For the constitutionalists, the question must be, is it better to reform now before going to the voters or better to present reform at an election and then ask for a mandate to govern?
Saturday, 16 May 2009
Being a weekend blogger, it isn't unusual for me to be behind the curve on a story. This is certainly the case with the MPs' expenses story.
Today, Sunday, we have had moves to make the Speaker, Michael Martin, stand down. The call for him to go has come most noticeably from Nick Clegg. This is an unprecedented step for a leader of a political party. It is a bold move that shows leadership, in one sense, but it is also a recognition that the Liberal Democrats are not about to become the official Opposition or the Government. For proof of that, all one has to do is listen to William Hague and David Miliband on why they won't make a public statement on the matter.
On today's Politics Show both David Miliband and Martin Bell suggested that there are bigger constitutional issues that need to be addressed.
While the whole sorry episode is very depressing, it does highlight how much we need to think about how we do politics in Britain.
For instance, why do we now insist that MPs have a home on their constituency? We never used to.
What do we want our MPs to do: represent their constituencies, review legislation, check executive power or all of the above?
And how do we ensure that the constitutional checks and balances that are in place, actually work?
In a fascinating post, Charlotte Gore compares poker strategy to party politics.
In Government Chasing their losses she makes the case for a general election this year.
Assuming Gordon Brown reads Ms Gore's blog and then assuming he agrees with her, what would the leaders of all three parties have to do to ensure people actually voted?
I ask that because right now a lot of people are probably thinking there is no point in casting an X at all. And if they do vote, they are likely to show their anger by supporting the smaller parties: Greens, UKIP and the BNP.
To call a general election would be a bold move. But being bold wouldn't be enough.
Brown, Cameron and Clegg would need to agree very clear new rules on salary levels and expenses for MPs. More importantly, they would need a new way of setting salaries and expenses and a new way of monitoring them.
They could of course all compete with their own schemes but any attempt at making party political capital from the expenses saga would probably backfire.
With new rules they could then get on with the job of arguing over policies.
Liberal Vision has been re-launched as a collaborative blog, previously it was a website. It now has a new look and is updated daily.
As well as looking very good, the posts are worth reading. Liberal Vision takes a classical liberal stance and its bloggers are all members of the Liberal Democrats.
Charlotte Gore is its Director of New Media and presumably had much to do with the new design.
So, well done Charlotte and all those involved.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Coverage of the expense claims of MPs can be found in many places today - here, here and here...
But if you want to understand more about 'flipping' to minimise capital gains tax then I recommend this post by Mark Lee on his Tax Advice Network blog.
Monday, 4 May 2009
This week the media has been telling us that Gordon Brown is in disarray. Not necessarily Brown himself, I am not sure if a person can be in disarray, but his Cabinet/administration/party/government - delete all that don't apply.
Paddy Ashdown let it be known that some senior Labour politicians might defect to the Liberal Democrats if Labour loses the next election.
This news rather upset Charlotte Gore.
At this point, we don't know if Labour will lose the general election, although everyone seems to think they will. Nor do we know what will happen to the Labour party.
They could implode.
We have seen this sort of thing before. The Labour party split in the 1980s and the Tories were in disarray in the 1990s. During both decades, the Lib Dems looked as though they might replace the party that was arguing with itself.
The Lib Dems didn't become the government. But what did happen was that people left the party that looked as though it was about to be confined to history and joined the party that was doing quite well.
This is a fact of political life. Some Labour members might even join the Conservative party.
Parties are broad churches and give shelter to lost political souls who need a home/safe seat - delete all that don't apply.
Sadly, doughnuts were not mentioned in the news last week but I needed another d word for my title.
That's US Republicans, by the way.
After the Republicans lost the White House and control of the Senate Republicans have been asking: what do we do now? The defection of Senator Specter has meant they ask the question more often.
Some Republicans want to go back to their base. They believe they lost because they weren't Republican enough.
There are two problems with this: their base is shrinking and they are unsure what it means to be a Republican.
The party, like all parties, is a broad coalition. But coalitions evolve, those in charge make mistakes and voters decide they want something different.
One tactic would be for the Republicans to sit it out until the American public tire of Obama.
Ironically, the man who defeated them showed them one way they could reconnect with Americans.
The Obama narrative weaved a Lincolnesque theme through his story. His speeches were peppered with references to entrepreneurs, being on the side of the individual and against the powerful.
One presumes this resonated with the electorate; at least to some extent although clearly not the only reason Obama won.
The polls consistently show, Americans approve of Obama but are unsure about his policies. This provides some evidence that they liked him and his message.
The Republicans have an opportunity to recast their party as a modern version of the one Lincoln led.
That would mean breaking away from the more extreme socially conservative policies and recognising that they need to build a new coalition.
Alternatively, they can counter the Democrat's policies with ones that the voters rejected.