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Who benefits from benefit?

The UK "benefit" system is about ensuring that people play the part alloted to them by economic and political elites.

Soft power and freedom under the Coalition

The Coalition’s conception of “freedom” has little to do with empowering individuals and local communities. Instead, it means enhancing corporate power by “liberating” services from public control.

Putin still has plenty of friends in London

If we take a brief look back at our history of “getting tough” with Russia, we can see where our political and financial elites really stand.

Red Tory

Editor's note: You may have read in the papers that Phillip Blond launched his ResPublica think tank with the blessing of David Cameron. He does not mention OurKingdom in his list of places he publishes so we have brought this out from our archive - we originally published it on the 23rd September 2008 after it appeared in the e-book Is the future Conservative? edited by Jon Cruddas MP and Jonathan Rutherford, produced jointly by Compass, Soundings and Renewal.

Hastening the end of the Union?

As delegates decanted from Manchester recently, many will have reflected on what they view as a successful conference. The gathering, the biggest seen for a long time, contributed to the on-going rebranding and definition of ‘modern Conservatism'. The conference also proved instructive for those who seek to understand how the Conservatives will approach issues of citizenship, identity and constitutional reform. And what the last five days has highlighted is that Conservatives, progressive or traditionalists alike, have little time for or comprehension of the complexities, dilemmas and subtleties of post-devolution politics in the UK. The conference instead revealed a party which remains Anglo-centric in its political outlook and language.

In his keynote address David Cameron again stated his commitment to the defence of the Union, claiming he would never do anything to put it at risk. However the view that emerged from the conference is one which is confused, often contradictory and likely to further undermine the cohesion of the UK. The Conservatives gave scant attention to issues linked to constitutional matters either in the main debating hall or at fringe events. The only session scheduled in the main conference hall which explicitly dealt with the Union had representatives from Scotland and Wales, plus Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. Empey's party is now again formally linked to the Conservatives, even though the memory of the previous connection, from the 1920s until the 1970s, is a bitter one for many Catholic nationalists.

The promotion of ‘Britishness' in Northern Ireland is set against a Good Friday Agreement which explicitly acknowledges the equal legitimacy of its two traditions. Owen Paterson, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, claimed that the Conservatives were the only political party who campaigned in all four nations, yet it was instructive that the session was mis-titled ‘Great Britain' rather the ‘United Kingdom'. Although the Conservatives claimed to seek to build ‘a stronger union' and ‘a greater Britain', it was not felt necessary to provide representation for England, thus suggesting that the quasi-colonialist Thatcherite view of Anglo-Britishness still shapes the Conservative thinking.

During the conference, the Party avoided discussion of the central plank of their constitutional reform platform, namely English votes for English Laws. This is presented as solution to the vacuum created by New Labour radical constitutional programme, the West Lothian or English Question, whereby power has been devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but not England. David Mundell, the Conservatives' only Scottish MP, described such reforms as ‘sensible proposals' to give English MPs equitable powers of decision-making as those afforded to the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved assemblies.

Tories undeterred by bumpy start in Northern Ireland

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Conservatives took another step in their nascent alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party today, with a visit to Northern Ireland by David Cameron in support of UUP European election candidate Jim Nicholson.

The previous evening, Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson explained the thinking behind the alliance in a talk at West London's Hammersmith Irish Centre.

This is the first time in decades there is someone representing a national party as well as a local party in an election in Northern Ireland. And we intend to go on. We intend to choose joint candidates over the next few months for the general election. The way things are going we might have to accelerate that, and we will see how we we get on.

This is a long term project. There may be bumps on the way. We've seen a few this week  with Lady Sylvia's comments. It will not go smoothly, but I think it is a really worthwhile thing to try and do. If we could move Northern Ireland politics away from the age-old stale debate about the great dividing trench, just park that and concentrate on things that really matter to people on a daily basis, I think we would bring in people who've not been involved in politics before.

The Tories' authoritarian tendencies

Craig Murray has an interesting post today about 'The Deepest Split in the Tory Party' - that between libertarians and authoritarians. It reiterates the fear, widespread among civil libertarians, that the Conservative Party has deep-seated authoritarian tendencies which are disguised in opposition but will come out in full force should it win power at the next election. Murray gives two examples - one from the party's leadership (Chris Grayling urging Jacqui Smith to tighten visa checks), and one from its base (ConservativeHome's featuring of a critique of Obama's decision to rule certain forms of torture out of bounds). I have my doubts as to whether his first example is an issue of civil liberties narrowly defined, but there are plenty of other candidates, such as David Cameron's tepid backing for David Davis's stand against the '42 days' policy. We shall have to watch carefully for these rare signs of how a Conservative government would actually act.

Returning trust to local government

Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Yesterday David Cameron in an article in the Guardian stated “I am a confirmed localist, committed to turning Britain’s pyramid of power on its head.” Now to someone like me who believes that the centralisation of power in England is one of the great democratic deficits, this is a joy to hear.

The reason for the article and the soaring rhetoric was the publication of the Conservatives green paper on decentralisation, Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities.  

The paper is genuinely welcome and contains ideas such a allowing local referendums if five percent of the local electorate sign a petition and giving local authorities the power to reduce local business rates. It also talks about giving the local councils a general power of competence, which has the potential to increase Council’s power. If these specific ideas make it into the Conservative manifesto and eventually into legislation I will be genuinely pleased.

But this paper does not match David Cameron’s words and turn Britain’s power pyramid on its head.  At the risk of sounding like of a reformed Marxist one of the true tests for a localist is money, not just giving local authorities greater power to spend the money given to them, but also the power to raise and spend more of their own money. This will eventually have to involve reforming the present system of local government finance and replacing the Council Tax with a fairer system of local taxation. On this the paper is not surprisingly silent.

Victory for Cameron but at what future cost?

Matthew Oliver (London, Unlock Democracy): The Conservative front-bench have been quick to claim credit for yesterday’s Government U-Turn on parliamentary expenses. Whilst it is true that their move meant that any vote would have been eye wateringly tight for even the most optimistic Government Whip, the real success is due to the online and media campaign run by amongst others, Unlock Democracy and mySociety.

What is also true however is that a significant minority of Conservative backbenchers are seething tonight. Cocooned inside the Westminster Bubble and their 1997-proof safe seats, these MPs are finding themselves slightly at odds with today’s changing society, which no longer views the Commons as a political private members club

Cameron's flawed plan for the Commons

Andrew Blick (London, Democratic Audit): David Cameron told the Financial Times last week that he plans to legislate – apparently in his first term – to reduce the number of MPs by at least 10 per cent and equalise the size of parliamentary constituencies.

On the surface of it, the move seems a fair one. Surely it is wrong that, because of the current uneven size of seats, Labour can potentially defeat the Conservatives with less votes? And cutting back on the size of the MP payroll must be a laudably prudent decision in these times?

But these arguments are flawed.

First, in practice little or no money would be saved. The running costs of the Palace of Westminster would not be reduced. While the salaries of about 60 MPs and their staff might be saved, the members that remained would probably need to take on more assistance in order to deal with the consequent rise in constituency casework per MP. That is, unless a Conservative government is about to seriously address the causes of the rising demands made by constituents – namely the weakness of local government and the lack of access to citizens’ advice bureaux.

Cameron is standing up for the Union

Chekov (Three Thousand Versts): Lord Smith makes a handful of curious points pertaining to realignment of the Conservative and Ulster Unionist parties, currently being effected by David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey.  The Liberal Democrat peer appears confused as to the nature of the Conservative and Unionist force which the two parties intend to create and inconsistent in his criticisms of Cameron’s unionism.   

Reconstituting links between Conservatives and Ulster Unionists will not, as Lord Smith contends, further polarise politics in Northern Ireland, still less aggravate increased dissident paramilitarism.  If anything the alliance will exercise a moderating influence on unionist politics, shaping a secular, inclusive movement, propounding the values of the Union.  The new force will not be about exclusion, or representing one community, it will be about making a case for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom which appeals to everyone in the province.   

Cameron fails to move unionism forward

Damian O'Loan (Paris): David Cameron was on the offensive in his speech to the Ulster Unionist Party conference on Saturday. This was a bold speech, bordering on reckless. His stated ambitions for the pact are mass appeal, consolidating the Union and Northern Irish participation at cabinet level. It repairs a split dating from the Thatcher era. He failed, however, to outline what exactly it will mean in terms of decision-making processes, policy and message, and concerns about impartiality prior to the speech, noted here by Tom Griffin, appear well-founded.

Cameron at the UUP conference

Tom Griffin (London, OK): David Cameron cemented the Conservative Party's alliance with the Ulster Unionists today with a speech to the UUP conference in Belfast.

Ahead of the event, the Irish Times recorded nationalist concerns about the arrangement:

Peripherally, there are mutterings of concern that to cement the deal Cameron, should he become prime minister, would tinker with the British-Irish agreements that led to peace and political progress in Northern Ireland; that he might disavow the Downing Street Declaration commitment that Britain has no "selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland". Such a move would certainly cause problems, especially with Dublin, Sinn Féin and the SDLP. "We support the current agreement and want to make it work," says Paterson. He is absolutely "emphatic" on this point, he adds.

Damian Green blog reactions

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The arrest of Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green has provoked a huge amount of comment  since the first hints started emerging on the blogosphere last night.

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie is incensed...

Given that Boris Johnson and others received prior warnings - but were unable to act - it seems very unlikely that a Home Office Minister (who did have the power to stop the police and may have even had to sanction what happened) did not have prior knowledge.  Such is the reputation of this Government, few are likely to believe ministers' denials anyway.  If Jacqui Smith did know she should resign.

...but so to is Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne...

Damian Green arrested

Tom Griffin (London, OK): A bit of breaking news that's been inspiring a few rumours on the Tory blogosphere tonight. From PA:

A member of David Cameron's Tory frontbench team has been arrested, the party has disclosed.

Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green, MP for Ashford in Kent, was arrested on Thursday afternoon at his home and taken for questioning at a central London police station.

He has not been charged with any offence.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: "A 52-year-old man was arrested in Kent. He has been taken to a central London police station where he will be interviewed by detectives.

"The man has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office."

Can the Tories fix the broke society?

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): OK's Tom Griffin has a piece up on Comment is Free reflecting on last night's Guardian-Soundings sponsored debate which asked "Is the future Conservative?" If you do the electoral arithmetic the answer is almost certainly, Yes. But as last night's panel - ably chaired by Jonathan Freedland - recognised, if the party is to achieve any kind of ideological ascendancy it must develop a new political economy that rejects the disastrous neo-liberal thinking that lies behind the current crisis. Not easy when, as Tom notes, Cameron's entire "broken society" pitch is based on the premise that Thatcher fixed the "broken economy"!

I sat through last night's debate with Tom and I think he's right when he says there wasn't much evidence of any new economic thinking from the largely Tory panel. There were a lot platitudes offered about the restoration of civil society and Jesse Norman made the quite remarkable claim that only the Right can provide answers to the current crisis, as they alone have "moved beyond the debate between the individual and the state" (more "Third Way" anyone?).

As Tom says, the most adventurous was Theologian Philip Blond, whose recent attack on the failings of the liberal state was published here on OK. I was surprised to find myself in agreement on some issues with the self-described "communitarian" Blond. One questioner in the audience summed up my reasons well when he joked that Sarah Palin is perhaps the personification of the communitarian critique of liberalism. Beware of attacks on "individualism" from both Right and Left: they have some pedigree.

LibCon's Laurie Penny got the biggest laugh from the left-leaning audience when she asked if we'd be witnessing a public display of contrition from the Tories now that they recognise the damage their failed policies have wrought.  She might have asked the same of New Labour too of course. Alternatives may now have become thinkable, but in the case of both parties, and judging by last night's evidence: don't hold your breath.

Cameron reclaims society

Tom Griffin (London, OK): It was as, as Janet Daley notes, a very traditional Conservative speech, and one which paid due obeisance to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

 Yet David Cameron's conference address this afternoon also contained an interesting inversion of the rhetoric of the 1980s: 

For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance. You cannot run our country like this.

It's difficult to avoid the comparison with Mrs Thatcher in 1987:

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand"I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or"I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.

Doubts over Conservative NI strategy

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Lord Trimble seems to have caused some jitters in the Ulster Unionist Party with his suggestion that the Conservatives will fight every seat in the UK at the next general election.  Is he hinting that the talks between the two parties may lead to a full merger?

Not everyone in the UUP would be happy about that prospect, as the lively comments thread over on Three Thousand Versts indicates.

In an interview with the BBC's Mark Devenport, David Cameron has admitted that the talks face some difficulties.

Parties wedded to 'outdated political economy'

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at Comment is Free, Labour MP Jon Cruddas argues that the Conservatives' emphasis on fixing Britain's 'broken society' is at odds with the party's commitment to free market neo-liberalism:

New Labour has not been able to exploit these contradictions due to its tone-deaf language, its one-dimensional take on Cameron and its own outdated political economy. While its centralising instincts and micromanagement of people have allowed the Conservatives to strike a chord with their criticism of state control. They have been able to portray state intervention - which has to be part of any redistributive politics - as an undesirable intrusion into people's lives.

James Graham believes that Cruddas and his Compass colleagues are the coming force within the Labour Party, but that they have failed to overcome their own 'centralising instincts.'

Cameron can't coast through the credit crunch

Tom Griffin (London, OK): David Cameron has been quick to react to the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley today, but the progress of the credit crunch leaves him with a more complicated task than he might have anticipated a few weeks ago.

Today's poll for the Sunday Telegraph provides more evidence that Gordon Brown's 'no time for novices' argument' has gained some traction. Andrew Rawnsley argues in his Observer column that the Tories have been caught flat-footed by recent events and need to raise their game:

Just a few weeks ago, Mr Cameron was planning to leave Labour to stew in its unpopularity and keep the substance to a minimum at his own conference. He won't get away with that now. The country looks for seriousness from the man who wants to be its Prime Minister. If he doesn't have any answers, then David Cameron really will find himself on the conference stage without any clothes on.


From the Thatcher economy to the Cameron society

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Next week's Tory conference in Birmingham will no doubt have the special buzz associated with what many see as a party on the path back to power. The new e-book Is the Future Conservative? (pdf) edited by Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford provides some timely insights into where the party might take the country.

Alan Finlayson's interview with Oliver Letwin, From economic revolution to social revolution, highlights an interesting difference of emphasis with the Thatcher era.

David Cameron: Modern Whig, Traditional Tory

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Guardian brings us news of the latest edition of Progress magazine, in which Skills Minister David Lammy makes Labour's latest attempt to develop a line of attack against David Cameron:

The truth is that the Tories' change in language has touched a nerve, reflecting a big gap in our own political narrative. Yet beneath Cameron's rhetoric lies the basic philosophy that failed Britain in the past. The Tories demand responsibility without offering support; they appeal for fraternity without any real belief in equality; they have finally noticed 'society,' but remain implacably hostile to the state.

Over at Comment is Free, David Marquand suggests that the Tory leader won't be so easily pinned down

Osborne takes on Miliband over inequality

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Shadow chancellor George Osborne launched a bold attack on one of Labour's traditional strengths in The Guardian today, charging that the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor in Britain is at its widest since Victorian times:

When it comes to developing a policy agenda that delivers fairness and social justice, the Conservative party is leading the political world away from the target-driven, top down, statist approach that Miliband pioneered when he ran the Downing Street policy unit. That approach is failing because it relies on a flawed assumption that only the state can guarantee fairness.

Has David Davis' stand backfired?

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!): That is certainly the conclusion of Lib Dem blogger and New Statesman columnist Jonathan Calder:

"It is now clear that Davis's political suicide bombings damaged his career and - far more important - has made it easier for the enemies of liberty in the Conservative Party (a club with a large and thriving membership) to prevail.

"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity."

Why this conclusion? This week the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary has announced proposals to make it easier for the police to access surveillance powers. Reading Davis' campaign website you could certainly be forgiven for thinking that he was opposed to such measures.

The key word that Grieve is keen to emphasise is "proportionality," yet there is already growing evidence that the existing RIPA regulations allow public bodies to monitor the public in a completely disproportionate manner. These are powers which are currently being handed out to councils on the nod, for goodness' sake; just how can the police be said to be restrained?  Surely you don't have to be an anti-police paranoiac to think that these are precisely the sort of police powers which should be tightly regulated?

I don't automatically condemn Davis in the way that Calder does; it may well be that his decision to resign was spurred by the fact that he had already lost this particular battle in the Shadow Cabinet. He has also given us a pretty colossal stick to beat Cameron with, should we choose to use it. But for the sake of his reputation and the faith in which hundreds of individuals put in him, he really ought to respond to this sooner rather than later.

Dealing with Stormont to deal with Holyrood

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The DUP this week sought to undermine Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey by portraying his precedessor David Trimble as the real architect of the party's deal with the Conservatives.

Even if that claim is exagerrated, Trimble's former advisor Steven King is a well-placed observer of Conservative-unionist relations. In the Irish Examiner, he suggests that the Tories' move away from English nationalism could actually assist a rapprochement with the SNP.

George Osborne, the Tories’ finance spokesman and unofficial deputy leader, in particular, has been asking how it would look if the Conservatives were held responsible for the break-up of the UK, not least if the 1980s were to repeat themselves and the Tories were seen to provoke Scottish nationalist sentiment. Wouldn’t a partnership involving the whole UK (including the north), not just the whole of Great Britain, answer criticisms that the Tories are “the English party”? Furthermore, if the Conservatives were in government at Stormont with the nationalist party par excellence, Sinn Féin, wouldn’t that clear the way for new approaches in Edinburgh and silence doubts about the Tories’ commitment to devolution? 

Blog round-up: The Conservative - Ulster Unionist alliance

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The Conservatives' link-up with the Ulster Unionists is provoking a great deal of interest around the blogosphere today.

Over at Brassneck, Mick Fealty sees the move as a sign that the Tories have finally developed a coherent response to devolution.

From a unionist (in the broadest sense of that word) perspective the new arrangements may finally give both parties a purpose beyond the narrow protection of a political union that is no longer under coherent attack from outside, but in grave danger of losing coherence from within.

Tories renew relationship with Ulster Unionists

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): On a day when the Conservatives are expected to be also-rans in Scotland, David Cameron has delivered the clearest possible signal of his commitment to the union. In a joint Telegraph article with Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey, he calls for a renewal of the historic alliance between the two parties.

As leaders we met at Westminster last week and agreed to set up a joint working group to explore the possibilities of closer cooperation leading to the creation of a new political and electoral force in Northern Ireland. That working group will report to us in the autumn

English nationalism still a mood not a movement

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): In the latest edition of Parliamentary Brief, Arthur Aughey looks at how Ken Clarke's Democracy Task Force has attempted to answer the English Question. Although sceptical on the details, he suggests that Clarke's approach reflects distinctive conservative principles that may point the way to a solution.

English nationalism is still a mood, not a movement, if only because the Conservative Party refuses to mobilise it as such. The taskforce’s objective is to prevent that mood becoming a movement, confirming the Unionism of the Conservative Party, something David Cameron has taken every opportunity to confirm since becoming leader.

If the report becomes party policy, which seems very likely, then the trajectory of Conservative thinking on the ‘English Question’ since 1997 is from constitutional maximalism to constitutional minimalism. It has gone from tentative support for an English parliament, through ‘English votes on English laws’ and Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s idea of an English grand committee,to this taskforce’s present recommendation of certified English bills being considered and voted on by English MPs only in committee and at the report stage.

Davis by-election: Did the media get it right?

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The turnout in Haltemprice and Howden may have been better than expected, but it doesn't seems to have shifted the media narrative.

The Independent's Open House blog asks whether David Davis' re-election was a hollow victory. The Telegraph confidently concludes that it was. The BBC's Robin Lustig argues that the hoped for national debate on civil liberties never materialised, while his colleague Nick Robinson continues to see Davis's relationship with David Cameron as the real story.

The stakes in Glasgow East

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Labour finally selected its candidate for the Glasgow East by-election last night, former Holyrood Minister Margaret Curran

Conservatives should be hoping that Curran succeeds in holding off the SNP, according to former Telegraph leader writer Richard Ehrman. 

Cameron wanted English nationalism, not the West Lothian Question, answered

Moderator: Cross posted from Normal Mouth's blog.

Normal Mouth (Rhondda, blogger): At the turn of the nineteenth century the very idea of a “Welsh question” was largely inconceivable. This was not so in Scotland and Ireland, where a strong sense of nationhood was buttressed by the relative novelties of their respective unions with England. Welshness, by contrast was identified with little more than the backward retention of an ancient language, and a wild and uninviting hinterland. Little wonder that the likes of Bishop Basil Jones of St David's declared as late as 1886 that Wales survived only as a "geographical expression".*

Industrialisation and Nonconformism gave birth to Wales’s national movement, and franchise reform gave it the means to press itself upon the consciousness of Britain's leaders. With a voice, Welsh sentiment was harder to ignore in Parliament. So emerged the radical Nonconformist wing of the Liberal Party, and through that those essential precursors of devolution - disestablishment, educational reform and Sunday closing.

The Tories and Devolution

Bethan Jenkins (Neath, Plaid AM): It is somwhat timely for me to be writing about the Conservatives and their attitudes towards Welsh devolution in the week that Professor Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University, has written an open letter to David Cameron emphasising the fact that Cameron "cannot afford to avoid" Welsh devolution and its future progression -
especially as he will, more than likely, be the next Prime Minister of the UK. 

Cameron's Tories: 'A straightforward party of the union'

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The Crewe and Nantwich by-election will be concentrating many minds on the prospect of a Conservative government, not least in Scotland , where the Tories have only one MP.

That position has led some to suggest that the Conservatives would be better off conceding the SNP's case and hiving off Scotland altogether. In a speech to the party's Scottish Conference, Cameron set his face against that approach:

Why Tories should back a written constitution

Scott Kelly, a researcher for the Conservatives, explains why the party should back a written constitution.

Scott Kelly (Parliament):
I recently joined my students from New York University at a lecture by Professor Vernon Bogdanor on the subject of the British and American Constitutions. The leaflet advertising the event stated that “many in Britain are calling for a Constitution”. The author of this leaflet may be surprised to learn that we already have one. What we lack is a written, or more correctly, codified constitution – most of our constitution is already written in one form or another although it has never been codified in a single document.

Although the leaflet may contain factual errors, it is true that the issue of a written constitution has moved up the political agenda. The terrorist attacks of last summer obscured the fact that constitutional reform was central to Gordon Brown’s “big idea”. The Green Paper issued during the first week of his premiership stated that "there is now a growing recognition of the need to clarify not just what it means to be British, but what it means to be the United Kingdom. This may lead to a concordat between the executive and Parliament or a written constitution."

Tories debate Scottish referendum

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): As OK readers will know (thanks Doug) Wendy Alexander has turned over her views on a referendum and has now challenged Alex Salmond to "bring it on". I'll leave her motivation and calculation to others closer to the scene. But I have just been reading a fascinating exchange over at ConservativeHome on whether the Tories should back a quick referendum now which they assume supporters of the Union will win, or reject the call as it will become a "neverendum" - ie just the next stage of an SNP campaign that will not take 'no' for an answer. Or, in other words just putting the question will be a kind of official recognition of its legitimacy and even the eventual likelihood that the Scots will say 'why not'.

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