Predistribution?? Miliband makes a vague move

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Interesting strategic moves by Ed Miliband with his introduction of the word “Predistribution”.” into UK politics Not sure what is different about what he is saying that is different to what is already being said and has been happening for the past 20 years. Improving the skills of the workforce is not radical, it’s mainstream and pretty much universally accepted.

Miliband says nothing about how he would get firms paying higher wages for poorer employees. Increasing the minimum wage is one tool to do this, but then again so is subsidising low wages from general taxation which he seems to be against.

He seems to be abandoning the idea of further redistribution which is a bad move by him, both politically and for the future of centre left politics in this country. He seems to be trying to repackage Nick Clegg’s idea of increasing “Social Mobility” into “predistribution” without some of the radical measures Nick suggests in tilting the balance more in favour of the disadvantaged – such as the Pupil Premium, changes to the tuition fees repayment scheme and incentives to get more students from poorer backgrounds into universities. I realise that Miliband is only just developing these ideas and more may come of them, but they are pretty weak at this stage.

What is more interesting to me is how he again talks about wanting to work with Vince Cable and the Lib Dems in some way to change the Government’s strategy. This may of course just be political mischief making to try to create splits in the Lib Dems. Labour have been sending a lot of messages this way in recent months, albeit with the usual mix of patronising statements and wishful thinking. Again, these are early days in any rapprochement between the country’s two centre left political parties, but it is at least a start. Whatever Lib Dems think about the Labour party, it does us no good to have only one potential coalition partner for the future.

David Laws smashes a few windows

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There have been endless rumours about David Law’s return to Government since he had to step down. So it, was no surprise to find him giving an interview in the Daily Telegraph recently as possible preparation for this kind of move. I know that David is on the right of the Liberal Democrats and that he speaks a language that many soft Tories can understand. I have to admit I was fairly shocked by some of the content. Sure he said a lot of things that I and other Lib Dems can agree with, on issues like marriage equality, opposition to Michael Gove’s plans to bring back a O level/CSE split and the need for the coalition parties to be more honest when they disagree with each other.

However, the main thrust of the article was about his proposals to drastically reduce state spending to around 35%. Obviously, he isn’t a minister or a spokesman for the party and these views are his own. But he is a Liberal Democrat MP who hopes to become a minister again. He must have known the damage that these remarks would have caused to the party. It pushes the popular notion that the Lib Dems have sold out to the Tories and that we have become right-wing. His proposals are not just right-wing, but more radical than many Conservatives would aim for. It doesn’t matter that the great bulk of the party would be horrified by what he is suggesting, or that we went into the last General Election with arguably the most left-wing manifesto of the three main parties. The fact that many of the policies we have influenced in the Coalition Government are progressive, even more progressive than Labour managed counts for nothing. The polices that the Tories have pushed that we have accepted as compromises are what the public sees and Labour have to some extent managed to make this flawed narrative stick in the minds of centre-left voters. David Law’s remarks just add fuel to Labours attack and he should have thought strategically before he publicised his proposals. I hope that his misjudgement is kept in consideration when Nick Clegg is considering any possible ministerial post for him.

A big weekend for the NHS and the Liberal Democrats

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I’ve resisted blogging about the Health and Social Care bill so far. I was worried that the rhetoric being thrown about was clouding the situation and I felt content that Lib Dem peers (and others) were putting enough pressure on the Government and placing enough amendments that the worst bits of the bill would be removed.

As I write this blog I am on my way up to our spring conference. I await the results of the emergency motions and the possible 30 minute health debate with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I have felt for some time now that the bill should be dropped.

I ought to state what I don’t think first. I don’t think this bill will privatise the NHS. It won’t destroy the NHS and it won’t be irreversible. I don’t believe that the Labour party really oppose it. They did more to open the NHS to competition than this bill would. Their leadership are being hypocritical and opportunistic. No surprise there. I do however, recognise that many Labour members and supporters genuinely oppose the bill and probably opposed some of their own government’s health reforms.

I oppose the bill for many reasons. I am not clear that it is needed. I worry that competition and markets are seen as the only way to motivate people and provide incentives. Many of the amendments restrain and regulate competition and promote cooperation and efficiency. This is good. I worry that it will not be enough.

At last year’s Social Liberal Forum conference we were warned that the Conservatives and the DoH would find other avenues to marketise the NHS. We were told that the bill was complex and that there were many loopholes and wiggle-room for Lansley. This proved true. We have watched Lib Dem peers (and others) quietly and valiantly bring in sensible amendments and try to focus the bill on improvements and transparency. But all the way along, the Government and Lansley have kept trying different routes to subvert this.

Despite the amendments, I’m not happy about the bill. I don’t trust Lansley and am not sure our leadership have blocked all the holes.

I think the Conservatives have out-manouevered us on the bill. They went for the extreme option so that they could look like the compromisers. Nick Clegg looked to be on the back-foot and should have been more aware of the dangers. Like Tim Farron said recently, the bill should have been dropped or substantially changed much earlier and that those at the top of the party should take the blame for this.

The Government as a whole (but more specifically) Lansley has shown great incompetence in people-management. They are the biggest employers in the country and seem to have alienated most of the health workforce. So many professions oppose or distrust it. It won’t work well if the people meant to implement it, don’t want it. That’s a basic.

The public oppose it, ex-Lib Dem voters oppose it, current Lib Dem voters oppose it more that the other party’s and even a majority of Lib Dem members oppose it. I had the pleasure of chairing a regional conference fringe debate on the bill recently, which included Graham Winyard (who used to be the deputy chief medical officer in the NHS). He warned that the party was sleepwalking into something worse than the tuition fee debacle. Sadly, he has now left the party over this issue.

I don’t think it will ruin the NHS. But it will damage it in its current form, at this time and in this way. It will have profound political consequences for my party. There is no shame is calling for a stop and a rethink. There is no urgency and we shouldn’t let Lansley force us into supporting now. We should reconsult with the professions and public, rebuild a coalition around reforms and try again. I hope the party works towards this at Gateshead.

James Percival – Opinion: Nick Clegg didn’t suck up to Murdoch – that’s why his minions tried to destroy him

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An excellent post on Liberal Democrat Voice yesterday by James Percival.

We must not let this opportunity pass us by

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This last week has seen major developments in the phone hacking scandal and the pressure on News International has reached new highs. The speed and ferocity with which this pressure has built is an indication of the frustration and anger felt by many people at the unrestrained power of some parts of our media. The Murdoch empire is the most visible part of this problem. It appears that some newspapers and journalists stopped at nothing to increase readership and intrude on privacy. The alleged hacking of murder victims and their families is the latest face of disgusting journalistic standards. It’s unfortunate that the all-encompassing intrusion into the lives and privacy of politicians and celebrities, and the distress and fear that it caused, was not enough to shift public opinion against this kind of gutter press, but at least the dam appears to have burst with the latest revelations.

Many people also worry about the power of the Murdoch empire to influence political parties, government and policy. The sight of Tony Blair and David Cameron slavishly sucking up to Murdoch and seemingly doing his bidding was sickening. Cameron’s close relationship with Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Hunt’s willingness to do what News International wants makes great swathes of the public uncomfortable and often angry.

Ed Miliband continues in his usual opportunistic manner and has jumped onto the bandwagon at the last moment. He has not led on this issue, but merely stuck his head out once he felt it was safe. Miliband is far from brave on this issue and Labour is just as much to blame for handing over power to Murdoch.  In February this year, Miliband’s spin doctor was telling Labour MP’s to lay off Murdoch and not to link phone-hacking with the BSkyB bid. The Guardian reported that Ed Miliband was wary of attacking Murdoch as he saw an opportunity to get back in his good books. Only a few weeks ago, Ed Miliband was joining David Cameron in drinking champagne at News International’s summer party. There have been a few hero’s in Labour’s ranks who have been consistent on this issue and who deserve praise – Tom Watson, Chris Bryant and John Prescott. I don’t agree with them on a lot, but they have been right and brave on this issue.

The position of the Lib Dems has been right and consistent. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne have been critics of the Murdoch press’s power and journalistic tactics for years and have avoided the excessive courting of News International that we have seen from both Labour and the Tories. Vince Cable must have been pleased that he was caught on tape talking about being “at war with Murdoch” and this pleased the Lib Dem troops. I do feel that Clegg could have spoken out more clearly against the appointment of Andy Coulson and I wish Cable had continued his war against Murdoch in the open rather than behind closed doors. But broadly, the Lib Dems have much to be proud about in this affair.

But the momentum has built on this issue and the cross-party alliance needs to use it to change Britain for the good. The power of the Murdoch press and the gutter tactics of some of the other tabloids is a stain on our democracy. It strikes right at the heart of our system of governance and what happens now will have lasting effects. These moments don’t come up freuqently enough. During the banking crisis there was a real chance to make our banking healthy and to stop huge coprporations gambling with the economy. Brown bottled it. He lost the moment and the chance was gone. The banks gained in confidence and began making threats whenever reforms were touted. Now that Ed Miliband has stuck his neck out, it is time for politicians, good journalists and the public at large to reform our press regulatory system and rein in the huge power of Murdoch. I hope we don’t lose the opportunity.

Leaked email reveals nothing new – Lib Dems are still fighting NHS plans

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This article in the Guardian left me feeling confused at first as it did not seem to report anything new. Then I felt happy that the Guardian was continuing it’s recent trend of publishing positive stories about the Lib Dems. If we are seen to be continuing our fight to limit the Lansley plans then so much the better.

Finally I became frustrated at some of the negative comments left under the article. This prompted me to leave the following comment:

“I can’t understand the attacks on the Lib Dems from some comment writers. The Lib Dems have led the charge against the marketisation of the NHS for some time and have made a lot of progress. The original policy had it’s true aims and consequences well hidden. Once the public and Lib Dems started to examine the bill the battles begun

The Lib Dem conference overwhelmingly voted to oppose the majority of the bill. They are the only truly democratic major party in the UK. The leadership are bound by the votes of members. Clegg had to get his act together and put the defence of the NHS above compromise on this. Evan Harris, Shirley Williams and many others set to work analysing the bill, listening to experts and putting in place specific measures to combat the bad parts.

Where were the Labour party? Shouting and heckling from the side-lines with no clear direction. A Labour party that had steadily done more to create a marketised and private NHS during the past years than Lansley would have done. A labour party where many senior members criticised the Govt for not carrying on with Lansley’s Bill!

The Labour party have been highly hypocritical and opportunistic. They started this process and would be pushing the Lansley reforms themselves if in power. Which political party has been consistent, democratic and effective on this issue? The Lib Dems.

There is nothing in this so called “leaked email” that hadn’t been publicly known already. Evan Harris and others warned of the same dangers recently at the Social Liberal Forum, when the press were clearly in attendance.

Some people on the left seem to prefer to relentlessly bash the Lib Dems rather than the Tories or right-wing policies. Bizarre!”

There is Much that is Good about the Coalition’s Higher Education Policies. But…

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A good interview from Tim Farron. There is another excellent clip from Paddy Ashdown on Radio 5 live

There are a lot of positive moves in this package.

Part-time students, who make up 50% of all students, will no longer have to pay their fees up front as they will now be eligible to apply for student loans. Many of this group will be people trying to retrain, parents wanting to get back into work and people who cannot afford to give up work completely. They will be more able to take up part-time courses and this is good for social mobility.

The threshold for paying back your student loan will increase from £15,000 to £21,000.

The interest rate on the loans will be lower for poorer students and higher for those earning more. This is progressive. It is reckoned that the lowest earning (bottom 20%) of students will pay less than under the current system and it has been designed so that many low earning graduates will not have to pay back all their fees anyway, as they will eventually be written off.

Fees are being raised to £6000, not £9,000 a year. The higher limit is an option for universities.

A £150m scholarship fund is being set up to pay, in full, the tuition fees of thousands of bright students every year so that they can go to university. This will help those whose families qualify for free school meals.

All this is good and it makes the system overall, more progressive and fairer than the unsustainable one that Labour left us with. Be in no doubt, it is the Lib Dems who have made the proposed system fairer. Labour set in motion the Browne review to report back after the election and they would have supported a blanket increase with no progressive measures. Their opposition now is opportunistic hypocrisy and they should be ashamed.

But…It is complex, difficult to understand, causes anxiety in prospective students and has caused unnecessary political turmoil and suffering. It has been handled poorly by the Government who have presented it very badly and underestimated support for free education. The Lib Dems made a pledge to oppose an increase. The coalition agreement allowed us to abstain and our members supported this agreement overwhelmingly. I think that is the minimum that our MPs should do. Our goal of a free Higher Education system paid out of general taxation should be our goal. Perhaps Nick Clegg & Vince Cable should have put their energies into persuading the Tories to adopt our scheme instead – this would have put Labour on the back foot.

Fears of Violence Force School to Cancel Event

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Yesterday I read that the London Lib Dem regional conference had to be cancelled due to security fears from the school whose building was going to be used, once they heard that student protests were going to be organised outside. For those who oppose a rise in tuition fees this might seem like a victory. However, it’s a strategic blunder. Twitter was awash with Lib Dems who were angry at the cancellation. Many had planned to lobby MPs and party officals against voting for a tuition fees rise. I understand that motions were put forward to conference also opposing this policy. This opportunity has now been taken away. I found an excellent blog post on the issue on the THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF MORTIMER website.

Those who hijack student protests to cause violence are damaging the cause. The same happened in the 1980s and 1990s and is the reason why many people are wary of joining marches or protests. The fear of far-left or anarchist groups riding on the back of genuine protests intent on causing disorder is damaging to any cause. I applaud the NUS for attempting to put clear blue water between the mainstream student and thugs. However I think they should be more aware that these thugs will follow them around. This conference was taking place in a school.

Ed Miliband on the Today Show – Vague and Confused

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I just heard Ed Miliband being interviewed on the Today show. He came across as calm and collected, but what he said was very vague and he often appeared unwilling or unable to clarify what he meant.

He said that the Labour party was different from the Conservative party. Apparently the Conservatives are a party that will help the poor, but ignore the “squeezed middle”. Amazing statement from Ed and probably not what he meant. He then went on to say that the cut in Child Benefit for those on £45,000 a year was a case in point. Ed told us that these people (top rate taxpayers who are in the top 10% of wage earners – The well off) are being hit too hard and that they need help too. My understanding is that the Labour party is criticising the Coalition’s cuts as being too deep and too fast. They also want a greater burden to be carried by taxation. By necessity, this will mean that someone has to pay more tax. Yet Ed Miliband is defining many top rate taxpayers as the “squeezed middle”. This makes little sense. Someone has to pay for our debts and someone has to pay for public services. There can be a genuine debate about where the burden falls, but Miliband cannot get away with his ‘motherhood and apple pie” politics where he seems to say that nobody should suffer and nobody should pay. Either we have progressive taxation or we don’t. Either services are paid for or we scale them back. He cannot just wish money into existence. He has attacked many coalition policies for being anti-progressive, but is completely unable to put forward alternatives. This is because he knows that tough decisions need to be made and he is not ready to make them yet.

I expect that Ed is probably being deliberately vague and fluffy, because he has yet to define the Labour party’s new direction. I also realise that he has managed to get his party ahead in the polls by saying very little except being against anything that people don’t like. It is healthy for politics to have competing philosophies and policies. But surely he needs to have a more coherent and believable message than this?

The Coalition is Evil and Nick Clegg Eats Babies for Lunch

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After the recent General Election and the advent of proper coalition politics in the UK there appeared to be a move to a more mature British politics, from the media and all political parties. It was refreshing to hear ministers in the coalition talk about their beliefs and their differences. However, this did not last long and I am getting increasingly frustrated by the sometimes hysterical nature of political commentary in the media. Many (but not all) politicians, journalists and some people in non-mainstream media seem to be indulging in a frenzy of vitriol. Sometimes the sheer lack of perspective and the level of self-delusion is staggering. Much of it seems driven by a hatred of the Tories and a disbelief that the Lib Dems did not do their duty and form a coalition with the Labour party seems to blind people to the context of our current politics.

The Guardian newspaper in particular appears to be undergoing some kind of civil war. Many in the paper were labour supporters and did not like it when the paper endorsed the Liberal Democrats during the election. There seems to have been a steady flow of negative stories against the Lib Dems, many of which seem to unquestioningly parrot the words of the Labour party without any deeper analysis. Some of their stories completely lack context and fail to give credit for genuine gains. Julian Glover’s article in the paper describes some of the emotional and irrational hatred spilling out by some commentators.

A vocal few on the left of politics and in the unions seem to relish a battle with the Government, despite being largely docile during the New Labour years when similar policies were instigated. Sure, be critical and build support for your own policies. But please stop trying to create panic and talk about a deliberate attack on the poor.

Now, I am a supporter of the Lib Dems and have been for many years. I consider myself as a centre left progressive and I was surprised and dismayed when we went into coalition with the Conservatives. Failing an outright Lib Dem majority Government, I would have preferred a Lib Dem/Labour coalition. But this was not to be. Tribalism was rife in the Labour party and many of their MPs did not seem to grasp the concept of pluralism, despite the efforts of a noble few. Also, the arithmetic did not add up. The Conservatives made many progressive concessions and I was genuinely surprised at the way Cameron embraced the new modern politics. Be in no doubt – this Government has already been more progressive than New Labour in a number of areas, particularly in freedom and liberties.

During the recent US mid-term elections, the liberal comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart led a Rally for Sanity. This was a movement in opposition to hysterical political hatred and cheap political attacks. I do hope such a thing will not be needed in the UK in the future.

There are still coalition policies that I fiercely oppose, and there are still genuine debates about issues to be had. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are parties with different values and different instincts. Politics is better with open discussion and we do not want to return to the last years of New Labour where ministers and MPs seemed scared of showing any disagreement. But surely there are better and more effective ways of doing it than always blaming Nick Clegg and ignoring reality?

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