Saturday, 30 May 2015

Income tax leniency

As part of a government which savagely cut HM Revenue jobs, Margaret Hodge must surely appreciate making the best use of resources. She will surely approve the concentration on serious tax avoidance and evasion as the Revenue confirms that it will accept reasonable excuses for late returns.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Molotov - Ribbentrop revisited?

The Liberal and Democrat bloc in the EU is concerned about the rapprochement between Marine le Pen of the French National Front party and Vladimir Putin in Russia. It is reported that le Pen's party has obtained loans worth €9 million from a Russian-owned bank and le Pen regularly meets members of the Russian government. This all should be no surprise to us who see little distinction between autocracy of the "right" or of the "left".

Spent lead ammunition in the environment

As a parliamentary candidate some time ago I was put on the mailing list of the Countryside Alliance. Because of mailing-list inertia presumably, I have not been taken off. I generally give their newsletters, dominated by shooting and field-sports interests with the occasional mention of more general rural concern, no more than a once-over. This recent item worried me, however:

Our Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner explains why he has resigned from the Lead Ammunition Group on behalf of shooting interests.

Explaining resignation from the Lead Ammunition Group

Last week I had cause to resign from the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG). I did not take this action lightly but did so in protest at abuses of process and evidence that I feel render the group's work so flawed it can never reach any scientific conclusions.

The LAG was set up under the Labour Government in 2010 at the behest of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the RSPB, on the back of scientific evidence from America. The purpose of the group was to advise Defra on any risks to wildlife, human health and livestock from the use of lead ammunition, and how to mitigate them. It has not yet produced a report. As Executive Chairman of the Countryside Alliance I have served on the LAG since 2013, representing the shooting community.

The Chairman, John Swift, circulated a draft Lead Ammunition Group Report in April which the majority of the group had no part in drafting. That document is very far from a reflection of the LAG_s discussions and draws incorrect conclusions from that evidence which the LAG has agreed. More seriously, many of those conclusions are based on evidence that the LAG has simply not agreed and were presented to the rest of the group as a fait accompli.

I submitted a total of 172 detailed comments of evidence and process on the Chairman's draft report, highlighting the number of flaws I believe to be present. With this and the overall negativity of the report in mind I cannot continue to serve as the representative of the shooting community on the LAG. I have profound disagreement with the way the process has been conducted.

Be assured, however, that neither I nor the Countryside Alliance will be walking away from this issue. Given the failure of the LAG process we will be consulting with the shooting community, other representative shooting groups and public bodies as to the best way to proceed.

You can read my letter of resignation in full here ( . Read Shooting Times' report here ( .

Barney White-Spunner
Executive Chairman

I do not have the knowledge or experience to judge the quality of the evidence on either side. However, the alleged action seems of a piece with government's method of dealing with ad hoc advisory bodies in other areas. The LAG should have been encouraged to produce a timely report which reflects their majority view. If that conflicts with government policy, or government advisors find the evidence faulty, then these things can be debated in the open.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Blatter: the Welsh FA does not have clean hands

The English FA can point to its exposure of attempts to solicit bribes by named members of FIFA, though only after a bid to stage the World Cup failed. For whatever reason, the Welsh FA remained loyal to Blatter and his cronies. When the final indictments are brought by the FBI in the United States, the WFA will need to explain its motives.

Many other domestic jurisdictions will have to examine themselves, given that Andrew Jennings exposed corruption in FIFA as long ago as 2002.

Update: the Welsh FA has withdrawn support from Blatter:

Wouk's prediction

Following on from yesterday's piece on Aurora Dawn, I cannot resist quoting from the author's introduction to the 1956 edition of the book. Substitute "quiz shows" for "parlour games", and "electronics engineer" or "data processing specialist" for "electrician", and he was spot on.

In the decade since this novel was written, radio has given way to television.

Who would have dreamed, a mere ten years ago, that the money crammed world of radio was a bubble about to burst?

Or who would dare to suggest today that commercial television - with its mammoth floods of cash, its huge studios, its racketing parlour games, its jigging advertisements, its solemn potentates - may some day be pricked by an electrician who will devise a more agreeable entertainment tool?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Herman Wouk

Today is the anniversary of Herman Wouk, best known for writing The 'Caine' Mutinythe book upon which the film of the same name was based. Another of his books, Marjorie Morningstar, was also turned into a movie. Not only is he still alive, I see from the Web that he sold a new novel less than five years ago.

I have a soft spot for Aurora Dawn, a satire on the advertising industry. As such, it was not original even in 1943 when Wouk started writing it but its assuredly florid style harking back to English masters of earlier centuries I found captivating.

Monday, 25 May 2015

So Cameron really does want to leave the EU

The prejudices of the elderly should not blight the futures of their grandchildren

The Indy reports that the Tory government is planning to deny 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the EU referendum which their Scottish cohort had in the poll on Scottish independence.

My recollection of canvassing as a parliamentary candidate was that it was the middle-aged and elderly who were most prejudiced against the European Union, when the subject came up at all. The young people who I quizzed on the subject were at worst indifferent. Their main concern was in getting a job.

My friends in the party tell me that their children who have been able to take advantage of today's interchange of young people across the EU are enthusiastic about the opportunities this offers. Why should the generation which is most engaged not be allowed to participate?

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Destruction of physical heritage

Boyd Tonkin's piece in Saturday's Indy puts the trail of destruction wrought by ISIS/DAESH in perspective, both in time and place. He points out the desecration of ancient sites in Mecca by the very people who inherited the duty of preserving the holy places for their fellow-religionists, all in the pursuit of non-oil revenue. One can add another case of "friendly fire": the damage done to ancient ruins in Iraq by US forces.

The commanding officer in the latter case may have had little respect for Mesopotamian remains, but one wonders what would have been his reaction if an outside agency had requisitioned the Williamsburg estate, much younger and arguably less distinguished architecturally than Babylon or Palmyra, and treated it with the same disregard.

The composer Richard Strauss, who regarded himself as one of the guardians of German culture, wept over the bombing of Dresden. But there is no evidence of similar concern over the destruction of Coventry, Rotterdam or Warsaw by the Nazi regime to which he was in hock, nor even to the lives lost in any of those cities.

Clearly, we are dealing with symbols here. The Saudis are showing contempt for anything (apart from the black stone itself) that predates the emergence of their ruling sect. The puritan iconoclasts of the reigns of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, and later of Oliver Cromwell, whose depredations Tonkin equates to those of DAESH, were showing their hatred of popery.  But, as Tonkin also points out, much that was destroyed was beautiful in its own right, appealing to something in all of us, whether believers or not. Post-Enlightenment, he posits a growing belief in "common human patrimony". People are more important than things, but take away their cultural heritage and you degrade people.

A last word from Boyd Tonkin:

A visitor to Palmyra who has just posted pictures on the BBC website writes that he found something 'slightly disquieting about feeling so strongly about the destruction of such astonishing cultural artefacts given the likely human toll'. Only a marble-hearted aesthete would not share that twinge. Yet Heinrich Heine wrote the first, and last, word about such pangs of conscience: 'Where they burn books, they will in the end burn people too.' Many people know Heine’s line, which now graces a plaque on the Bebelplatz in Berlin, where the Nazis stoked their literary bonfire in May 1933. Fewer know its original context. It comes from his 1821 tragedy Almansor, and refers to burnings of the Koran by the Spanish Inquisition.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Sophia Gardens before it became the Swalec

 The date suggests that this was taken on the opening day of the home fixture against Derbyshire in 2004. 

The River End looks different now!

Extract from Glamorgan CCC's cover picture at

Friday, 22 May 2015

Conservative parliament slipping back into old ways

I see from Guido Fawkes that no time has been lost in allocating select committee chairs "through the usual channels" to the various political parties. An opportunity was lost for the committees themselves to choose the most suitable person irrespective of party, though one trusts they will still be able to elect which Conservative (or Labourite or Nationalist) will take the chair.

As Sir Alan Beith said in one of his last contributions before retiring:

“It would be a retrograde step to return to appointment of chairs behind closed doors or just within parties. This would harm the standing of select committees in their role of holding to account the Government of the day”.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poverty and unacceptable jobs

There was a rare treat on Laurie Taylor's Thinking Allowed this week: a contribution from a conservative (if not a Conservative) academic in the field of social policy. Labour is fond of saying that it is a myth that JSA claimants prefer to stay on benefits than take uncongenial jobs. Andrew Dunn provided evidence to the contrary, though rather too much of that evidence was from DWP staff rather than claimants themselves to settle all doubts. I would add that the difficulty and expense of getting to and from work is also a disincentive. I agree that most people would prefer the self-respect which work gives them, even if the balance of compensation is negligible, but it has to be recognised that there is a minority which would not.

Joanna Mack's summary of an exhaustive series of surveys over the last thirty years was even more sobering. Although some of what we regard as essentials today were seen as luxuries or unobtainable in 1980, it seems clear that the gap between rich and poor has widened since then. Moreover, there are far more people now than then who depend on in-work benefits.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

I wish it were true

Stephen Tall relays and seems to agree with a recent Economist article which declares that liberalism is winning in the UK. It has become mainstream, adopted by all the other parties, so there is no need for a Liberal Democrat party any more.

However, one has to ask: what kind of liberalism? The Economist cites the fact that gay marriage, with a few objectors on Pauline grounds, has been accepted by the Conservatives and the opposition alike. But there is more to liberal democracy than embracing gender equality.

David Cameron's rhetoric about Conservatives ruling as a one-nation government does not convince either. It is clear that retaining the unitary nature of the UK was uppermost in his mind rather than eroding the differences between rich and poor. At the same time as he was making his "inaugural" Cameron already had at the top of his agenda of implementing manifesto promises the repeal of the Human Rights Act. Now, it could be that Michael Gove's Bill of Rights would give the same protections under the ECHR as the HRA did, without the need for complainants to go to Strasbourg, but the signs are not good. At best, there will be no room for judicial interpretation which will lead to hard cases.

We have been here before. The wartime coalition led by one-time Liberal Winston Churchill as it had victory in sight made liberal reforms. It commissioned the Beveridge Report. It implemented educational reform. Churchill would also have introduced a national health service if he had won the 1945 election. Liberal membership and supporters drifted largely to the Conservatives, following the absorption of the breakaway National Liberal party. (Incidentally, Mark Pack can add the pro-coalition manifesto of 1945 to his list of Liberal suicide notes.)

Harold Macmillan, who had served with distinction in the Great War and was later affected by witnessing a Jarrow march, and Edward Heath continued the liberal conservative consensus.

Then it was swept away by the doctrinaire Thatcher administration, as this historical analysis (which incidentally disposes of the Disraeli myth) by Mark Stuart in the Yorkshire Post explains.

I would argue that the UK would have been better served if a stronger Liberal party had been able to participate in government in 1978 and again in 1992. We must not allow complacency in these relatively good economic times (for one section of society) to weaken us further. We are still needed in Westminster, as well as Cardiff Bay and Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wood pellets

It was good to see the fuel for WWT's Slimbridge reserve coming from a renewable resource, but, as the supplier admits:

Until recently, it was not easy to source good-quality, consistent, reliable, well-priced wood pellets in the UK. [...] most of the European pellets available for the UK market come from northern Europe - particularly Scandinavia (primarily Sweden and Finland), the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and Russia. The Swedes and Finns are particularly advanced in trading pellets internationally, both their own and those produced by their north-European neighbours.

So at present there is a non-renewable penalty to pay in the form of transport costs.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Small government

Steve Hilton was plugging his book More Human on Start the Week this morning. Much of what he said sounded quite liberal and at odds not only with Labour's statist philosophy but also with that of the corporations which fund the Conservative party. It attracted favourable comment from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Indy and a more than guarded welcome from Michael White in the Guardian.

There is a lot to be said for Hilton's analysis, but when he suggests that we adopt elements of governance from the United States and France, not the best-functioning of states, one has doubts.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Blood sports

It is interesting that the forces of reaction did not call for a referendum on hunting with hounds*, which they clearly felt they would lose. According to the Indy, they are instead confident of bouncing Parliament into repealing the Hunting Act 2004 on the back of the new Conservative majority.

It should be noted, however, that the manifesto commitment was to a free vote on the repeal. There are more known opponents of hunting on the Conservative benches than supporters of field sports within the opposition. It can be assumed that many others will be swayed by the correspondence they will receive from the League Against Cruel Sports and other humane organisations into abstaining, at least. Therefore, the non-participation of the SNP in an England-and-Wales-only matter should not matter. Further, the House of Lords is no longer dominated by the landed gentry so even if repeal passes the Commons, it cannot be assumed to have an easy passage through the upper house.

* As opposed to EU membership, where they seem confident of a majority in the country but not in the Commons.

Friday, 15 May 2015


It is not obvious from the TV news bulletins, but the trouble in Burundi was sparked by an attempt by president Pierre Nkurunziza, in his final term of office, to hold on to power in contravention of the constitution.

Alice Nzomukunda, who leads the liberal Alliance Démocratique pour le Rénouveau, has called on Nkurunziza to take direct responsibility for the conflict and coup attempts in the country.

Liberal International reports:

Amid widespread public protests and deepening power struggle in the central African country, giving her appraisal of the crisis exclusively to LI News, Ms. Nzomukunda said: “President Nkurunziza and his gang have to be held responsible for all the casualties that have taken place in the last three weeks following their determination to violate the Arusha Accords and the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi.”

The former vice-president was clear that the responsibility for ending the conflict peacefully does not simply lie with the hands of the President. “The insurgent liberators of the population have to sit together with all political, civil and moral forces to decide on the future of the country”, insisted Nzomukunda.

Adding to her comment for LI News the former Vice-President also called on liberals from around the world to issue a declaration supporting the protest of the Burundian people and the respect for the core texts underpinning the functioning of the Burundian society.

In the World Today Resolution adopted by the 59th Congress in Rotterdam, LI called on the government of Burundi to respect all points contained within the agreed roadmap, in particular the agreement "to engage in inclusive dialogue before any changes to the constitution are pursued."

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Human Rights Act: Tory incompetence

In moving swiftly to fulfill their manifesto promise to deny legal redress of abuse of human rights under the European Convention to ordinary people, David Cameron and Theresa May have overlooked the way that the Human Rights Act 1998 is intertwined with other legislation. In particular, the Scottish and Welsh constitutions are seriously affected as Wales Online reports.

Kirsty Williams has responded swiftly:

“The new Conservative Government is trying to deprive Welsh people of their human rights.
“As things stand, elderly people who are in conflict with a local authority over the care they receive can use this legislation to fight their case.
“If the Conservatives got away with taking away these rights, we would be worse off.
“But because the Human Rights Act is embedded in the Government of Wales Act 2006, it is not so easy for them.
“Under the Sewel Convention, the UK Government should ask the Assembly’s permission to remove the Human Rights Act from the Government of Wales Act.
“I’m sure the majority of AMs would not agree to that.”
In addition, more liberal members of the Conservative Party (yes, there still are some, though my Labour friends are difficult to convince) are threatening a revolt over the abolition, according to the Indy.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Be a council web-site tester

Take the survey on Neath Port Talbot's website and you will be invited to take part in user-testing of proposed upgrades of the council's pages.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The fightback has started

It was refreshing to attend the first meeting post-slaughter of the Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats earlier this evening. After a day watching the Labour Party tearing itself apart on TV and Facebook (and incidentally continuing to ignore the real reasons why they were never going to challenge the Conservatives), it was good to be among people who were looking forward, not back. There were positive contributions from new members (part of over ten thousand the party has put on in the last week, I understand).

Now all we need to do is persuade more young people that slogging round the streets with leaflets and clipboards is an essential part of the democratic process and that there are rewards at the end of the day.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Democratic Alliance leadership

The Democratic Alliance, of which the old South African Liberal Party was one of the ancestors, has made a song-and-dance about electing its first "black" leader.

I don't recall so much fuss being made about Lindiwe Mazibuko's becoming leader of the DA in parliament three-and-a-half years ago. Could it be that Ms Zille did not approve of her?

Saturday, 9 May 2015

No sign of one-nation Toryism so far

The Prime Minister has made a speech about one-nation toryism which rings as true as Margaret Thatcher's inaugural promise to replace harmony with discord. The opposite will be true. He no longer has Liberal Democrat ministers to counter-balance the bone-dry Tories behind him. His first decision shows that he is taking no chances: David Cameron has reappointed the hard-line trio of Osborne, May and Hammond to their old top jobs.

The first fruits are highlighted in Peter Black's blog.

Friday, 8 May 2015

It's the feel-good factor, stupid

No good deed goes unpunished

David Cameron's speech two days before the poll threatening the Great British Public with total uncertainty if they voted Liberal Democrat seems to have had its effect. The voters were clearly already feeling the benefits of the steady improvement in the economy, something which was predicted even as the coalition government was bedding in. This feeling has not yet been reflected in surveys, still less in Labour rhetoric, but it must be here and the voters did not want to risk losing it. We Liberal Democrats have suffered, even though we have been the most consistent party on the economy over the last twenty years and Liberal Democrat ministers have contributed most to the factors which have enabled the UK economy to recover better than most from the events of 2007/8.

Even Conservative spokespeople have expressed their regret over the unfairness of the results, voters giving the benefit of the improvements introduced by the Liberal Democrats to the majority party while assigning the blame for the unpopular decisions of the coalition to the smaller party.

Our future in the EU looks doubtful

Never mind the 2017 referendum, the Conservatives' attitude to the European Convention of Human Rights, bolstered by the big increase in the UKIP vote share, is going to sour relations with the EU. The Human Rights Act, which guarantees citizens access to UK courts in order to assert their rights, is certain to go if Cameron is true to his pre-election commitment. (Incidentally, overlooked by the commentators has been the loss of Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone, who have fought lonely battles on women's issues in government. There is nobody as progressive likely to come forward from the Conservative benches.)

What a majority Conservative government can do

First, they will look to force through the reduction in the size of the House of Commons and redrawing of boundaries which was blocked by Nick Clegg in the wake of the failure to push through Lords Reform. Naturally, Cameron will also claim that the natural order of things has been restored under a first-past-the-post system and therefore voting reform has been pushed back for at least another five years.

Secondly, the move to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and afflicted will be accelerated.
There is no chance that the cuts to housing benefit will be reversed.

Thirdly, Trident replacement will go ahead, possibly at the expense of further armed forces manpower reductions. There will be enough Labour support for this to force it through, even if there is a change of Labour leadership.

There will be other things which LibDems were able to prevent in the last five years, like no-fault dismissal.

To paraphrase Lord Kinnock

Being old is not so bad, given the triple lock introduced by Liberal Democrats, but do not be young, without transport, in the armed forces, sick, disabled, in rented accommodation, directly employed, under the flight path of the expanded Heathrow airport, Muslim or expect to keep your digital communications secret.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

It's hard to be positive in the county championship

Jacques Rudolph is clearly a results man. He is prepared to take a risk for the sake of a win. At Grace Road in April, he set Leicestershire a challenging but achievable target, given our experience of T20 cricket. Leicester chose to take the draw. Yesterday, he declared behind, trying to make up for the time lost to the Cardiff rain. No matter that Glamorgan sacrificed possible batting points, Derbyshire complained of bad sportsmanship.

As one who remembers the exciting cricket produced by the buccaneering captaincies of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie (Hampshire) and Ted Dexter (Sussex and England), I trust that the new Glamorgan captain will persist in his positive attitude.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

EU activities

The European Parliamentary Research Service has just issued this document: I find it difficult to work out what it specifically represents, because it has clearly been written in another official language and translated rather mechanically. However, the graphs do point up how much more active the European Parliament is than the other institutions. What a pity that the UK in 2014 returned so many UKIP MEPs whose influence - when they are actually present - has been overwhelmingly regressive.

Additionally, that great bogey of Conservatives and 'Kippers, the European Commission, is far less significant in conclusive meetings.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Burrage Grove, SE18

For some reason, the short period of junior schooldays in Woolwich came into my mind the other day. From this site, I learn that the school I attended in the early 1950s was one of the original London School board establishments. I remember it for two things, the AJS & Matchless motorcycle factory next door, and a formative schoolmaster, Mr Punton. I was already good at reading, thanks to pre-school introduction to letters from my mother, but he honed my spelling ability. I remember regular lessons in which the class was divided into teams ("lions" and "elephants", if I recall correctly) and competed in spelling correctly the words he read out.

After school, I would spend too long gazing into the windows of Sidney Ross's toy emporium at the corner of Burrage Road and the main road, before catching the bus home.

I went back twenty years later. The trams had long gone, as well as the school and the factory replaced by flats or maisonettes. Muslin's, the little tailor's shop and home of one of my classmates in Plumstead Common Road had also disappeared, but I was glad to see that the family business of another classmate continued to thrive.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Today is World Press Freedom Day

Thanks to European Liberals and Democrats for this.

Liberal Democrat female MPs

Inspired by the latest dispatch from Creeting St Peter, and taking advantage of a UKElect upgrade which includes the names of the 2015 general election candidates, I had a look at the sex profile of a few outcomes of the general election.

Mark Valladares wrote:

 we have women candidates who have taken over from retiring male MPs, and we are optimistic that some of them will win. But, we are reminded of 2010, when exactly the same thing happened, under very much more promising circumstances, and what happened? They lost. in South East Cornwall and Harrogate and Knaresborough, to name two. In target seats, where we really thought we could win, like Derby North and Truro and Falmouth, women candidates lost. And in held seats, like Redruth and Camborne and Richmond Park, good women MPs lost.

So, we have an apparent problem at the sharp end, when the electorate, uncontrollable and unfathomable, made the decision not to elect some women - not really something that political parties can control.

We do, also, have a problem at the initial stage of the supply end. Women don't come forward in anything like the same numbers as men - the ratio was about 1:2 in my days as a candidate assessor and member of the English Candidates Committee. To be honest, I have no idea why and it's hard to envisage how one might easily find out. However, the answer to that question is essential in determining possible solutions.

Part of the answer to the last point is to improve the nature of the UK parliament, to make it more congenial to women members. The devolved parliaments, and local authorities, have more helpful hours, generally more practical discussion with less posturing and a better representation profile than Westminster.

We used to have a selection system (inherited from the SDP) which produced shortlists for candidate selection which were so far as possible gender-balanced - until we were advised part-way in to the Blair-Brown administration that it breached sex discrimination law. Labour then introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which decriminalised all-women shortlists but apparently did not allow balanced shortlists. I see from the wikipedia entry that the Act is due to lapse at the end of this year unless extended, so an early task of the new Parliament must be to look again at the whole question of positive discrimination in candidate selection.

As to the first point, if the worst happens, and we fall below 30 seats after 7th May, only one Liberal Democrat woman would survive. Dropping just seven seats would mean that eight of our MPs would be women (16%), slightly better than the seven out of 57 at the start of the last parliament. But an increase to a total of 100 MPs would see a further sixteen women, giving us 24%. This would not be as good as Labour's 2010 rate of 33.3%, but ahead of the Conservatives' 15.7%. (This all assumes uniform swings, of course.) More relevantly, it would produce healthier and probably more productive debates.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Clive Jenkins

Today would have been the 89th birthday of this son of Port Talbot. He will justly be remembered for his building the membership and influence of technical trades unions ASTMS and ASSET. If it were not for his incomprehensible absence from the major anthologies, he would equally be remembered for his telling turn of phrase. If Twitter were available in his day, he would easily have seen off all trolls. His biting epigrams and his socialism (contrasted with his chablis life-style) did not endear him to Tories nor to many people on the Labour side of the fence. For those outside the left-right battle, he was an endless source of thought-provoking squibs.

The Indy's obituary recalls: "I was only wrong about my being wrong." "I have never been criticised by anyone I respect." and "Say whatever you like about me and I will sue you." I also remember his description of Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent as "irrelevant as the flush on a dead man's cheek", which has become more relevant in the current election campaign, centred as it is on Trident.

He was a frequent contributor to Any Questions? but never became a life peer, which he should have been. He had clearly made just too many enemies in high circles.

For younger readers: Harry Secombe did an uncannily accurate impression of Clive Jenkins, which he deployed in this programme, available to hear again for the next two weeks. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Future coalitions

So Ed Miliband has reiterated his determination not to enter a coalition after the general election. It seems that Labour has not shaken off its race memory of the Ramsay MacDonald-led National Government of the 1930s. The trauma of the National Government clearly coloured the thinking of Jim Callaghan in 1978 when he indicated that he would rather risk a later Tory government than call an early election which would probably have resulted in sharing power with Liberals. (Callaghan presumably calculated that an anti-union, economically liberal party led by a woman would prove massively unpopular. He was not to know that Thatcherism would last for nineteen years.) The 1978 Labour Party at least had the burden of people who remembered the 1930s. The 21st century Labour Party with its supposedly internationalist outlook has no such excuse, when there are ample examples of stable coalitions on the continent, including one led by Lord Kinnock's daughter-in-law in Denmark. Of course, Labour's 2015 campaign is advised by a citizen of the United States, which has no recent history of power-sharing at the national level.

From the point of view of the majority of LibDem activists, who have more in sympathy with social democrats on the Labour side than with Conservatives, this is a pity. The arithmetic was not right in 2010, but it might be more favourable in May this year. Miliband's mulishness feeds the propaganda machines not only of the Liberal Democrats but even more so of the nationalist parties.

As to a possible continuation of a Conservative/LibDem coalition, Lord Greaves has an authoritative piece on Liberal Democrat Voice. I agree with him and Bill le Breton in "arguing the case for a much more open, democratic and liberal set-up involving a minority Government that works with Parliament instead of trying to dominate it in a majoritarian manner".

In fact, it is unlikely that either the leader of the Conservatives (whoever he or she may be after the election) or Ed Miliband is likely to pick up the phone to Nick Clegg if Liberal Democrats are much reduced in representation. Conversely, it would be fatal to the Liberal Democrat party if Nick took the initiative and was therefore perceived to be, without principle, hawking his favours round the streets of Westminster.

All bets are off, though, if Liberal Democrats maintain or even increase their numbers in the House of Commons and thus achieve endorsement of the "brain and heart" electoral pitch. This is not impossible. It is as likely, in my opinion, as a SNP "tartan-wash" north of the border.