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How to stop Boris? Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and what the left must now do

The only way parties of the left can stop Boris Johnson is by coming together and ending their internecine tribalism.

Lib Dems to the rescue?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): It seems that Tom Nairn, Peter Oborne and our own Anthony Barnett were on to something with their suspicions that Gordon Brown would seek to shore up his authority with some kind of cross-party pact.

The Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala offers just such a proposal in this week's New Statesman:

A Lab-Lib deal is possible - but only if a pre-emptive progressive coalition is formed soon. By the time Barack Obama leaves these shores in April, Gordon Brown should invite Nick Clegg to be deputy prime minister with Vince Cable as chancellor. The coalition would govern for a year - announcing the date of the next election, and legislating for fixed-election dates, too. This year it would focus on the response to the recession, while agreeing on core progressive priorities for the next four-year parliament in both party manifestos.

A Lib-Lab pact?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Today's Daily Mail brings us Peter Oborne's take on the emerging theme of a government of national unity:

Of course, the Prime Minister does not envisage an alliance with David Cameron's Tories. However, he is seriously toying with the idea of bringing the Liberal Democrats into a possible coalition. Private discussions  -  all, of course, totally deniable  -  are taking place secretly.

Against this fascinating background, I can reveal that special favours are being offered to the Liberal Democrats. First, there are signs of a deal being thrashed out between Downing Street and the LibDems over the appointment of the next Commons Speaker.

Conservatives will polarise Northern Ireland politics

Trevor Smith (York, House of Lords): The formal re-uniting of the Ulster Unionist Party and Conservatives is major blunder by David Cameron: it will further polarise politics in Northern Ireland. It will invite a response not only from the other legitimate political parties in Ulster but, worse, is likely to provoke further violence from the dissident Republican para-military groups.

His assertion at the UUP's annual conference that this new merger signals his Unionist credentials is foolish and dangerous posturing. The UUP is now a small rump of a party with only one MP at Westminster and she, Lady Hermon, is rightly sceptical of the new arrangement. It will do nothing for the Tories and precious little for the UUP.

However, Cameron's Unionism is not spread equally thickly throughout the UK. In Scotland he tactically hopes that the SNP will be successful enough to limit the number of Labour MPs at Westminster to secure him a majority at the next General Election. Cynical tactics for a party leader who proclaims transparency and integrity in policy formation.

Trevor Smith is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Northern Ireland in the House of Lords

A Labour-Lib Dem pact for Cardiff in 2011?

Tom Griffin (London, OK): John Osmond brings us news of the debate in the Senedd that launched the Institute of Welsh Affairs' new book, Politics in 21st Century Wales. He suggests that, given some of the players involved, the event may turn out to be a preview of the coalition negotiations that follow the next Assembly election:

Of course, First Minister Rhodri Morgan won’t be among them after 2011, since he has announced his impending retirement from politics – “he has indicated a wish to stand down as First Minister well before the elections” (according to his biographical note in Politics in 21st Century Wales). However, he prompted the speculation by suggesting in his contribution to the book that Labour should countenance proportional representation in local elections in order to allow a coalition deal to be negotiated with the Liberal Democrats.

It was Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price who suggested somewhat mischievously that this was tantamount to Rhodri revealing ‘a bit of ankle’ to the Lib Dems.


Whither Quaequam

Anthony Barnett (London, OK):  Fascinating post by occasional OK contributor James Graham over on his Quaequam blog about his growing ennui and disengagement from the Lib-Dems. Even the party conference has not boosted his steroids and he might leave the Party - well, the thought is there. It's an almost poetic description of how people get fed up with the routines of party political life, its lack of imagination and inspiration. Can this be the rest of his life? If I was Nick Clegg I'd be worried, but it is about more than just the Liberal Democrats losing the mood of one of their bloggers of the year. It's also a tale of the fate of how politica activism - including blogging NB - just not giving food for the soul and the heart and the brain not to speak of other parts. (hat tip Iain Dale)

Scottish Lib Dems go for the continuity candidate

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Tom Griffin spent a long time finding Stephen Glenn to write a post about the Lib Dem leadership contest. I'm afraid Tom didn't get as much warm support from me in his search as he should have. Eventually, he found Stephen and we ran this story by him on the battle to lead Lib Dem Scotland. It seemed to me that Tavish Scott was the least interesting of the three candidates, if he is indeed standing for continuity of a forlorn strategy. Today they have announced the outcome of the ballot: it seems that Scottish Lib Dems have voted for the hole into which they are digging. Could this be true?

A new leader for the Scottish Lib Dems

Stephen Glenn (Linlithgow, Lib Dems): What next for the Liberal Democrats in Scotland? They're no longer in a coalition administration but just part of the opposition to an SNP minority government. It's a dangerous position with the Tories strengthening and Labour weakening.

Three candidates have stepped forward to fill the void left by Nicol Stephen's resignation as leader, by the end of next week one of them will be leader. Tavish Scott, a close ally of Stephen, is seen by many as the continuity candidate. Ross Finnie, served eight years in the cabinet when the party was in coalition with Labour after the Scottish Parliament was created. He says the party needs to find its 'narrative' again. Mike Rumbles, who chaired the Holyrood's Standard's Committee for four years, sees a radical path ahead.

SNP offer to Lib Dems could end council tax

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Scotsman brings us news that the SNP is preparing to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats to abolish the council tax in Scotland.

As the SNP is running the Scottish Government as a minority administration, it needs the support of one of the other main parties to get its plans through. The Lib Dems support the principle of a local income tax, but are adamant that it must be set locally, by individual councils, rather than by the Scottish Government at 3p in the pound.

Miliband and the Liberal Democrats

James Graham (Quaequam Blog): I'm probably one of the most pro-Labour Lib Dems you are ever likely to meet. A Georgist and an electoral reformer, I'm very conscious of the fact that I am likely to meet more fellow travellers within Labour than the Conservatives (although not as many as I'd like). Despite spending the day knocking up voters in a hopeless (for us) Lib Dem-Labour marginal, in the evening on 1 May 1997 I cheered as loudly as anyone when it became apparent that the Tories were finally on their way out.

What, then, should I make of the prospect of a Miliband Premiership, given his stated aim of uniting the traditions of social democracy and radical liberalism "into a single narrative"? - an approach that like other matters appears in a transparently clear but nonetheless coded form in his Guardian article.

Scared or just pusillanimous? Labour, the Liberal Democrats and 42 days

 Rosemary Bechler (London, openDemocracy): responds to Anthony Barnett's coverage of the campaign against 42 days:

Thanks for the cogent reading of this important moment in the decline of the Westminster hall of mirrors. Doesn’t one need to include in a third episode in this drama? – the refusal of the two main political parties challenged in this bye-election to participate in debating the issues. For all the commenting and blogging, as in the case of the Iraq war and an ever-lengthening list of crucial decisions for the UK, we still have not been told why 42 days is deemed to be necessary to our national interest. All the talk simply obscures this ominous silence.

A Lib Dem case for elected mayors

Guy Aitchison (London, OK):Remember Labour's "big idea" for elected mayors across the country? It was quietly shelved in 2002 after a dissapointing uptake by the small number of local authorities that held a referendum on the issue, but many still believe they are the key to returning real power and accountability to local government.

Now Dorothy Thornhill, the Lib Dem elected Mayor for Watford, has a thoughtful post on Lib Dem Voice on why the party should drop its opposition to elected mayors. Lib Dems have traditionally been wary of the idea of concentrating power in the hands of a single leader but she thinks elected mayors could help the party reach its goal of a more decentralised political system. Well worth a read.



Clegg makes the case for radical reform

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Nick Clegg has a devastating op-ed piece in today’s Independent on Britain’s political and constitutional “crisis” (what we in OK have been calling our “good crisis”). Better than any serving politician I know of, Clegg diagnoses the rot at the heart of the system, making a powerful and intelligent case for radical democratic reform.

He begins by describing the pompous and degrading ceremony that still surrounds our democratic institutions. This isn’t merely harmless, tourist-friendly fun he says. It masks a “crisis in which the public feel ever more alienated from, and angry towards, the political class. And a crisis in which Parliament itself is neutered by the all encompassing power of the centralised Whitehall state.”

Richard Holme 1936 - 2008

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Richard Holme, or Lord Holme of Cheltenham (being a peer suited him), who has just died, deserves a place in the pitifully meagre pantheon of modern British democrats. Trevor Smith’s fine obituary in today’s Guardian has already set out the important role he played in establishing the Cook-Maclennan pact in 1997 as well as assisting the agreement between the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats and his work in various bodies committed to democratic politics and constitutional reform, not least his own Centre for Constitutional Reform.

Reform or retrenchment? Wendy Alexander on the constitution

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander made a bold bid to take back the Scottish constitutional agenda on Sunday with the launch of her policy document, Change is What We Do:

Clegg fleshes out the new politics

Jon Bright (London, OK): Nick Clegg will call for around 150 parliamentary seats to be dissolved this evening in a speech in Sheffield. I'll be interested to hear his exact reasoning - so far, it seems to revolve around cutting the price of politics significantl. He will apparently also call for a £3 voluntary donation option to be added to each ballot paper at the general election, with people giving the money to the party of their choice (or not at all) - which I think is very similar to a proposal made by the Power Inquiry. Getting any party funding reform will be hard - and getting MPs to vote for a drastic thinning of their own ranks should be next to impossible. Nevertheless, it's interesting and relatively radical stuff.

Clegg reiterates convention call

Jon Bright (London, OK): Nick Clegg is repeating his previous call for a reform of Britain's political system today, and will apparently describe Labour as "gutless, heartless and incompetent" for how they paid for their inheritance tax cut. He will call for a convention of 100 or so people to debate a reform of Britain' political structure - and wants to propose a £25,000 maximum donation limit. Probably also worth reiterating that at the moment the latest polling still shows a hung parliament. Would Gordon Brown accept the convention in return for a coalition government with Clegg?

Kennedy, Livingstone and the demon drink

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Political Betting has a good short summary of,

The big political news in the UK this morning...[is] the future of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, following the resignation yesterday of the £2000 a day consultant whose job it is to deal with the media on his behalf.

Clegg calls for power to England

Jon Bright (London, OK): Anyone who has worked in a busy office will know how quickly the first draft can turn into the final copy, how an off the cuff suggestion can turn quickly into a policy, how a quick fix can become a permanent feature. No-one must be more aware of this than Lord Barnett, whose political mission it seems to be to destroy his own formula - which was developed as a temporary solution for distributing money round the UK in the 1970s - and has since become a feature of our much maligned constitutional landscape.

Does Britain need a population policy? by Alasdair Murray, CentreForum

Jon Bright reviews: Does Britain need a population policy? by Alasdair Murray of CentreForum.

Alasdair Murray dissects and demystifies the immigration debate, and shows why we need a policy of decentralisation to fix the problems of immigration.

Clegg's devolution diet to keep separatist wolf from door

Jon Bright (London, OK): Nick "Radical within Reason" Clegg was up in Holyrood yesterday to visit the MSPs who had unswervingly backed Huhne throughout the leadership campaign, and lay out what his plans would be for a Scottish Assembly. He endorsed, apparently, both wholesale reform of Westminster and increased power for the devolved assembly, and accused those who were holding back on granting these powers of "feeding the beast" of separatism.

Peter Hain, what a shame

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Despite lots of things I have always had great admiration for Peter Hain. He proved himself to be a wonderful organiser and the young Hain helped make apartheid unacceptable. Few politicians have done anything like it, it was quite the opposite of the think-tank, special advisor, where are my cuff-links, career of today's younger MPs. Peter then fought notable court battles and was framed by the South African special branch and got himself acquitted - all before he started his Labour party career. And he has written a lot as well, Political Trials in Britain published by Penguins in 1984 was a serious contribution to civil rights literature.

Nick Clegg triangulates the circle

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I wish Nick Clegg well, but this I can't resist. He did today's Guardian's G2 Question time. Asked why he was not being bolder, he lists the policies that are and concludes, "I am being as radical and bold as I can reasonably be expected to be".

Clegg begins hung parliament bargaining

Jon Bright (London, OK):  New Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg has reached out to both parties with a strong call to fix Britain's political system. He says:

The United Kingdom can make the unattractive boast that it hosts the most centralised, ossified and unresponsive system of government in Europe today. Go to Britain's most deprived communities and ask people whether government listens to them. In response, you will hear what I have heard time and again: people believe that a politically-inspired - and economically advantaged - minority can sometimes work the system to their own advantage, but that for the vast majority of the British people politics is closed. The system has become the master, the people rendered powerless.

Clegg's liberalism is not the opposition we need

Rupert Read (Norwich, The Green Party): I knew and worked with Chris Huhne long ago, back as a student in Oxford in the 1980s, when we were both in the SDP. He always impressed me, and he would have been a serious Leader for the Lib Dems. But not for me: I left the Lib Dems eight years ago, terminally dismayed at their (lack of) direction. The critically important thing, from my perspective as a Green, was that the Lib Dems, like New Labour and Cameron's ‘New Tories', had become thoroughly committed to neoliberalism and to globalisation. That is why it didn't really matter to us whether Clegg or Huhne triumphed today. The differences between them in terms of underlying political economy are negligible: Clegg is marginally more right-wing, marginally less green, and marginally more vacuous - but the key word here is "marginally".

Well done Lib Dems

Anthony Barnett (London OK): When OK started earlier this year I said to my colleagues that I felt like posting a very angry blog asking where ARE the Lib-Dems. Indeed, I wrote a draft but didn't publish it because I felt it was too much a response to media impressions. I'm glad I didn't. I feel like congratulating everyone, as Tories and Labour bloggers spit their irritation. Congratulate Ming for finally getting out, Clegg for winning (and for the finest moment of the campaign when he faced down an incredulous Paxman after he lost the capacity to distinguish between Newsnight and University Challenge), and Huhne for a brilliant campaign that will strengthen the Lib-Dems internally.

What way for the Liberal Democrats?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Lib Dems matter, even if at the moment they matter in the way that they fail to matter. This needs to change if they are up to it. The issue is not just tactical, in the way that Peter Preston discusses, it is about setting the terms. Whether or not there is a hung parliament, a possible coalition, etc, the current strategic impasse Labour is facing, trying to demonstrate its "competence", and the likelihood that any Tory majority will be fragile, means that the next election could be one whose outcome the the Lib-Dems can frame. By this I mean whether or not there is a deal they could define what he country needs. I was trying to get at this (even if I went a little far) when I suggested that Vince Cable shows the Lib Dems could be "hegemonic".

Liberal Democrats hegemonic

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): For the first time since the First World War the Liberals are defining popular feeling thanks to Vince Cable. They have been hegemonic before (meaning dominating and setting the framework of thought rather than directing it) when two liberals, Keynes and Beveridge, set the terms though not the politics of the welfare state for post-war Britain. Since then they have striven to be popular and influential, usually by being earnest and worthy (and sometimes by being cheap, cheerful and inebriated). But even when Paddy Ashdown was clearly the best man in the Commons for the top job there was something needy, marginal and outmaneuvered about being a Liberal Democrat. This sensation of good but doomed was never greater than with Ming Campbell. Now Vince Cable has achieved the most surprising breakthrough of all in a period of astounding reversals.

Clegg v Huhne: The Lib Dems become the Lib Dems again

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Good. As the battle for the Lib-Dem leadership between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne enters the final round, with ballot papers now going out and the result announced in the 17th, the need to address the system itself moves to centre stage.

Not on Newsnight, of course, where last night Jeremy Paxman, who seems to loathe questions about how we are ruled (is he part of the problem?) failed to probe what the future of the Lib Dems might be, insisting instead that his questioning of the two candidates was "a game".

Anthony asks Clegg and Huhne

Jon Bright (London, OK): As part of the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne have agreed to take part in a "youtube hustings" - questions uploaded by members of the public will be answered by the leadership candidates own youtube postings. Anthony has uploaded his own question, of which the edited version is here:

Liberalism between the economic and political

Chris Bose (London, CentreForum): This is an article partly in response and stimulated by Jon Bright's insightful blog entry below.

The launch of CentreForum's pamphlet, ‘Globalisation: a liberal response', provided a platform for Sam Brittan and Vince Cable to sketch out the themes of a liberal perspective on globalisation. The speakers were united in their calls for free trade and relaxed immigration. Sam made a typically cogent justification for allowing EU migrant workers into the UK labour market. Vince in particular urged for an ending of reciprocity in trade:

Huhne supports People's Veto

James Graham (London, Quaequam Blog!): I haven't yet had a chance to read Chris Huhne's leadership election manifesto in full, but I was delighted to see him come out in support of a People's Veto.

I have to admit, I had some inclination that his team were cooking up something like this, as they approached me asking questions about how such systems would work in practice. I know this isn't a policy they just cobbled together without thinking about it; Chris Huhne supporter David Howarth is a sceptic of direct systems of democracy in the best sense of the word (as you can see from this video). If this policy got past David's forensic mind, you can safely bet that it has been robustly scrutinised.

Clegg & Hunhe in Halloween Hustings

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I went to the RSA with Guy Aitchison to watch the first hustings between Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne the two candidates for the leadership of the Lib-Dems. I found myself sitting next to Lord William Goodhart who was cheerfully addressed from behind by a familiar voice saying "we are all Liberals here with one one or two exceptions" and I received a friendly but pointed slap on the back from the somewhat less lordly Tim Clement-Jones.

Electoral reform to be drowned out by whispers?

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): With an electoral system that diminishes, inhibits and fractures their election results and the traditional two-party mindset of the political class (politicians and journalists alike) being reinforced by the close rivalry between Brown and Cameron, it is easy to understand how readily their tormentors patronise the Liberal Democrats; less easy to understand why their leaders so often down play electoral reform. It is therefore interesting that Chris Huhne has chosen to make a distinct political identity for himself by emphasising electoral reform along with social justice as his themes in the contest with Nick Clegg for the Lib Dem leadership. By contrast, Clegg emerges as a regular good guy, and handsome to boot, and by implication a young and vigorous replacement for their "aged" predecessor. Clegg's image is further enhanced by whispers that Huhne's challenge to Campbell in their contest for the leadership was contaminated by yet more whispers. (Has there ever been a political contest sans whispers?) Then the Sunday press took whispering into a new dimension, as I wrote yesterday. Who is whispering, who is playing tricks here, and why?

Lib Dems need process reform

Jon Bright (London, OK): With all the debate over who the next leader of the lib dems will be, is the party missing a more fundamental opportunity to have a think about its internal structure? James Graham has written an article for OurKingdom arguing that the lib dems need to change how they make both short term and long term policy if they are to succeed. Have a read here.

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